Celebrate returning to faith, hope, culture and life with community.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Testimonies and Bylines


I grew up Evangelical.

It's a fancy term. Broad. Short for: I sat through a lot of conferences about following Christ as a committed youth group member.

We'd frequent conferences and lock-ins together. They were full of these big, chase-after-God moments. They took us to the very crest of spiritual peaks. They showed us what community meant. And how life as a Christian could spark something alive in us.

They were also full of testimonies, stories about faith. Stories akin to the Prodigal Son, about losing faith and returning to it. Stories that were more Saul to Paul, a sudden turn on the road to Damascus. They involved drug addictions, prostitution, murder -- or ninth-hour miracles. Recoveries from cancer, or a change of heart after paralysis.

They were incredible. They were pointed, affirmed. And those who shared them were so certain of a faith unspooled and wound around their lives.

My naive heart wanted a good story. It wanted a conversion-moment more interesting than giving my life over to Christ at five-years-old. It wanted redemption.

It wanted more drama.

It took me years to learn that just because my testimony lacked drama didn't mean it lacked relevance.

There are those of us who seep further and further faith through our mundane routines. Through trips to the grocery store and coffee with friends. Those of us who weren't refined in a blaze of glory but whose hearts were perhaps changed by the day-to-day flickers of a lit match rather than a roaring bonfire.

So, as a fiction writer who is a Christian (note: not a Christian-fiction writer) how do I reconcile this? How do I create stories that matter, that nod to higher purpose and deeper meaning slowly? Without the conversion-moments in many mediums that come across as contrived. Or maybe even a little creepy?

How do I reconcile what I know about faith and God, with characters who, maybe, love Jesus but drink a little? Or curse. Or have sex. Who make bad, selfish decisions, but who learn from their mistakes?

Would those people (you know the ones) condemn me for being real? For being honest in fictional work?

With that, the following is an excerpt from the opening of my novel-in-progress, Bylines. It's been a three-year-long journey. An attempt to connect the big, flamboyant faith with the quiet, tempered journey.

Bylines [An Excerpt], by Brett W. Tubbs

She figured it would be on page S-2. Flush left. Above the fold. That’s where it had always been. Jordan’s fingers could find it by habit; a type of muscle memory that only avid readers could develop.

Where is it?

“Yo, Jacobs! Think fast!” Samuel Martinez’s voice sliced into her caffeine headache. Without her eyes leaving the page, she lifted her hand to catch a small stress ball mid-air, inches before it smacked her in the ridge of her glasses frames.

“Niiiiice!” Samuel called as he trotted up to the hallway. His pure-white sneakers shuffled along the corporate blue carpet. “I always thought we’d make a good team.”

“Hard pass.” She gave him a blank stare through her dark frames and tossed the ball back. It landed in the palm of his hand with a thwack!

“Christ, girl,” he said as he trotted up to her felt-lined cubicle. “You look like hell.” She sighed a heavy portion of irritation blended with good humor.

“Good to see you, too, Martinez.”

Of course it would be Samuel she ran into first. She’d somehow managed to slip into the Richmond Times-Dispatch building unnoticed, which meant having to bypass the office’s coffee corner. A sacrifice she was beginning to regret more and more with every high-pitched swarm of ringing phones.

She was hoping for at least a moment of quiet before she fell down the work-well. A prelude to the pomp and chaos that was her work-life. Or what it was eight weeks ago.

Should’ve known better with this crowd.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you’re back and everything,” he shoved his hands in his khaki jacket pockets. “The intern they hired to take your place wasn’t nearly as hot. You know. On your good days.”

“You just hated her because she didn’t want to make a pass at you.” Jordan smiled at the sound of her editor’s voice. She turned in her desk chair to see Caroline Mitchell, the Barbie to her Skipper. The well-groomed and settled brand of adulthood Jordan hoped to become one day. “I thought we talked about not starting with her today,” her perfectly lined brows cinched together as her hand made a staccato smack against his backwards baseball-capped head.

“Agh! Jesus! It was a joke – ”

“It’s fine,” Jordan lifted her unpainted lips in a side-smirk and pushed her glasses up. “First time someone’s been honest with me in weeks.”

It started the moment her Dad was diagnosed. The dishonesty. The well-wishes. The I’m-praying-for-you sign-off to every phone conversation and email exchange. Even the sabbatical the paper gave her to be with him in hospice; the written letter signed by the team pressing her to take care of her father that came accompanied by a lifetime supply of Cracker Jack boxes.

Everyone was so sure he’d be feeling better. Any day, now. Any day. 

The lies didn’t stop the funeral, either.

Jordan watched, numb, the way people would ooze and slush through the room that smelled like death and stale peppermints.

They told her God wanted another angel and that he was in a better place. Jordan knew if there was a heaven, her father would make the cut. Especially if the Big Guy was a Yankees fan. But for Frank L. Jacobs, heaven was no further than a box seat at a baseball stadium. And, Lord help him, he was nobody’s angel.

Monday, April 18, 2016

How to Create and Foster
a Young Adult Community Group

The responsibility landed in my lap, as most do.

This was all thanks to a leader at my church I've called home for more than three years. If you don't believe in karma, or an off-brand of it at the very least, just know that beginning a young adult community group came about during a time in my life (real and writing) when I was complaining a lot  about the capital-C-Church's lack of community for young adult women.

It seemed the Church-world offered two choices when it came to small groups: a nine a.m. women's study with free childcare for children I was nowhere near having and conflicted with general business hours, or heavy, theological studies that made graduate coursework look like finger-painting.

So for years, I complained. Neither option offering what it was I truly wanted to be a part of. A community the likes of people like Shauna Niequist have acquired: a place to ask hard questions. A place for meaningful support without judgement. A place to be wrong, a place to not have sparkling, gold-star answers to complicated questions.

What I didn't know was that there was a third choice. A hidden step in creating community that proves the most daunting and, if you're lucky, the most fun. And that step...

Is just to begin.

Pick a book. Pick a night of the week. And roll with it. If I had spent as much effort starting a community group as I did time complaining about the capital-C Church's lack of young adult community, I'd have ten groups at three different churches.

To begin is to be vulnerable. It's to put your personality, your home, your reputation on the line. It means potential rejection. It means disagreements. Maybe even hurt feelings.

But it could also mean healing. It could mean redemption. It could mean the world.

Start Small

Even to an extrovert's extrovert, there's nothing more jarring or vulnerable than sitting in a circle and confessing your deepest secrets/struggles to a group of strangers.

It's easy to want to drive expectations through the roof. We're going to take over the world and have really meaningful conversations about life and our faith journeys and we're all going to be best friends and...

Slow down, sister.

Let the first couple of meetings be heavy on chat time. After all, many deep friendships are built upon logged hours of small talk.

Our group gets off track. A lot. And guess what? It's fun. It's supposed to be fun. Many of our funnier and goofier conversations have led to moments of buoyant clarity.

Be Sensitive to Time

To show up consistently to a group each week is a big time commitment. It's always easier not to go. Our lives and social calendars offer us a multitude of excuses. This means if your group ends at seven p.m., pray out. Give the people who need to prepare for their week, make dinner, do their laundry, a chance to dip out.

You can always leave space for people to stick around, especially if there's an individual in a crises or if the fellowship is too sweet to break away from. But the general rule of thumb is: if your group meets for one hour, stick to one hour.

Also, keep in mind major holidays. Our general rule is that we don't meet the weekend of a holiday to give members more time with family or recovery time from dozens of parties, travel plans or house guests.

For instance, our group takes a little hiatus over a month during the summer. This lets us rest. And miss each other and start off strong.

Celebrate Together

I come from a family that equates party planning as a spiritual gift. Have a friend graduating from law school? Celebrate! Moving out of town to begin a new career? Celebrate! Wedding, new baby, book-release? It's time to party!

Nothing bonds people together more than joining in on their big moments. Besides, how can you rally together through the hard times if you haven't practiced rallying for the happy moments?

It's Not Personal

There was a season almost a year ago where we lost several members of our group at once. Our group of close to eleven girls dwindled to five. This was due to a cocktail of social differences: big life changes, or, it just wasn't what some people needed.

I was worried. And I confessed to my co-leader (side note: this is also important. If you don't have one, grab a girl you trust big time. She'll be your fall-back and a voice of reason if you ever find yourself in a sticky place. Especially if yours is an attorney, like mine is) that I was ready to throw in the towel. To stop putting myself, my home, my resources out there if it meant rejection.

She very wisely said:

"You have to think about what this group is doing for the girls who show up. Maybe it wasn't for them. But it's for us."

The knot in my stomach ironed itself out. There's a fine line between self-absorption and self-awareness, and I'd crossed the threshold, victimizing myself (really, the marks of a great friend, right?). Turns out, changes to the group over time are natural, and even a sign of health.

Be Patient

Friendships take time. And really nothing stifles growth more than impatience. Give your group a chance to grow. Life is more fun when you have the resilience to do it all together.

This process is, of course, far more complicated than a six-step listicle. Have any questions about starting a small group or thoughts about creating community? Leave me a comment below!

photo credit: Tea Time via photopin (license)

Monday, April 4, 2016

God of Instagram

She was a fringe-friend. Someone I knew, but admired from afar.

We'd met in college, and though she was a year older than me, our paths crossed on several academic and social circuits.

After she graduated, she began her wedding and engagement photography business on the cusp of the popularity of Pinterest. Her Facebook and Instagram feeds were filled to their brim with sparkling images. Smiles, new-starts, white dresses and receptions with enviable amounts of twinkle lights.

Somewhere within the folds of her new business, she got married, too. Her followers could capture pictures of her own wedding. Life with her own love and, from what it appeared, her built-in second-shooter for weddings and events.

A few summers ago she photographed a dear friend's wedding. It was set in the summer in Maryland on a golf course. The backdrop was velvet green, and the occasional putter in a golf cart. The evening was all citrus and buttery white wine, a cappella music and dance-offs.

This fringe-friend, the photographer was there. As was her husband. I passed by him shortly before the ceremony.

And I waved. With vigor.

There was only one problem: I didn't know him.

I'd only met him through my Instagram feed. And there was no pretending like I was catching the attention of someone behind him. I had crossed into this weird territory of having his digital image circulate in my mind.

He, of course, was gracious (though confused), and gave me a small wave back. Later that evening, his wife told me that he'd grown accustomed to people believing they knew him. Through Instagram.

That got me thinking about faith. Or, specifically, how I've treated faith.

It might be a trite comparison, but I wonder how many of us walk through our lives believing that we truly know Christ and His word when we really just know him through a passive medium. How many of us have truly broken through the digital veil into the real skin-and-bone world of living as a Christ-follower?

Oftentimes, in my own life, I worship the God of Instagram.

Vaguely. Through a friend of a friend. In church Sunday mornings. Through a passing acquaintance I have admiration for. I scroll through scripture like I would on the app, admiring the surrounding flashes and blips that come with faith:

Beatitudes? Double tap.

Love your neighbor? Double tap.

Fruits of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, double tap.

Death? Resurrection? Double! Tap!

The thing is, scripture talks about this in Matthew 7. About people who claim they know God. About people who prophesy, who do good works and perform many miracles. Who say, Lord, didn't we double-tap in your name? Didn't we filter our lives through your word?

But Christ doesn't know them.

I wonder if he would know someone like me.

Further, how many of us form our opinions on civil rights, gun control, clean eating, politics, [insert hot, blood-boiling topic here] scripture-at-a-glance, a scripture filter, rather than an actual relationship with God. A tangible, deep faith. Still water running deep.

A faith with dimensions outstretching a perfect square. Without room for comments.

An analog faith. A faith unfiltered.

Or a faith that - through its penetrable force in your life, words, deeds, actions, love, future - filters through everything.

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