This weekend I went back to my alma mater, Ball State University (the Harvard of Muncie) to visit my best friend, Ashleigh. My best friend, Erin, was there, too! We spent most of the weekend bingeing Queer Eye on Netflix and eating at all my favorite college restaurants, so I feel bloated but also weirdly inspired to redo my apartment and get my life together.
Shout out to Erin and Ashleigh for being good sports and going to church in Muncie with me. My friend Daniela recommended Commonway, which is an interdenominational church that is held in the Muncie Convention Center. My first question was, what is interdenominational? I had heard of nondenominational, which doesn’t accept any specific denomination’s rules. Interdenominational, as you might guess, “celebrates” many different denominations. It’s a great marketing strategy, seeing as any denomination can go and it doesn’t expressly disagree with their beliefs. And it’s working! This church had a very large crowd, not quite a mega-church, but it had a similar vibe.
It had pretty average music, a very sweet community feel, and I liked being there. I’m finding it harder and harder to distinguish between churches now, especially the contemporary ones. They all have a slightly hip praise band, three songs to start, then announcements, then a sermon, then two songs to close. Everyone sways, there is free coffee, and you can mingle after (or, if you’re me, run to your car). And just because it isn’t a unique experience, it isn’t bad.
Today’s sermon at Commonway was part of a series and sermons titled “Mountains and Valleys” where they are trying to explain how to use religion to navigate the ups and downs of life. It sounds like they are mostly focusing on the valleys and not the mountains, but that makes sense. It’s the headwind/tailwind imbalance, where we feel more deeply the things that hold us back rather than the things that propel us forward. This sermon in particular focused on how to comfort a friend who is in a valley of their life.
The pastor focused on 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, which reads:
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
Usually I don’t put a whole bible phrase in a blog entry but I chose to this time, because the pastor made a 45 minute sermon out of these 126 words, and that was pretty impressive. You’ll notice the word “comfort” appears 9 times. The gist of the passage, according to Commonway, is that God has us suffer so that when we survive our suffering, we can use our story to comfort others. They said that our unique experiences with grief or loss can not only make us stronger people, but become something we share with those who also face loss and be a comfort to them. The sentiment is, “if I survived, so can you.”
That’s kind of nice, right? It’s one of the most beautiful things when we hear about someone overcoming trauma or addiction or something equally troubling, and then using their story to help others. I agree that’s awesome. I agree there is strength in shared experiences, both negative and positive. I think that learning from loss and then trying to help someone else is lovely. That is my disclaimer, because what is to follow might sound like a contradiction to this.
I think Paul (who wrote this Corinthians letter) was the ultimate one-upper. We all have a one-upper friend: you tell them you’ve had a bad day, they tell you all the ways theirs has been worse. If your break up is depressing, it’s nothing compared to their heartbreak. You think your relationship with your parents is strained? Well it’s nothing like the shit show they have endured with their parents.
Paul is that guy! Now, I am going off what Commonway said and not what the actual Bible said, so maybe I am getting stuff wrong (which I do, a lot. Use the contact form on my “about” page to inform me of all the ways I might be butchering this). Basically, he said Paul was almost stoned to death, but survived, and then used that story to bolster others who were going through valleys in their lives. Imagine that conversation!
Some guy: Ugh I am having a really bad day.
Paul: Yeah? Well I almost died from stoning, but I made it through. So will you.
Paul: Don’t you feel so comforted?
Paul: I am the best at comforting.
I know Paul didn’t do it like that exactly. I know he was a reverent man who sought to follow the lord and eloquently express how suffering can be beneficial instead of just shitty. So, props to Paul.
But my trauma (or your trauma or anyone’s trauma) isn’t a tool I have to use to help others. Maybe I am strong, and maybe I find healing in helping people. Or maybe my trauma is messed up and painful to talk about and something I want to deal with in my own personal way. I don’t have to share it!
Also, Commonway kind of skirted the questions. They were like “people always wonder why God lets bad things happen, but he does it so you can grow and help others who are suffering!”
But what if bad things just didn’t happen though? Like what if no one had to comfort anyone else? WHERE DOES THE EVIL COME FROM, COMMONWAY? (I know the answer is probably Satan but I haven’t gotten to the Satan character development portion of the Bible yet so I am still waiting for an answer).
Thanks for reading and dealing with my uneducated opinions! Commonway was fine, they were trying to get the community engaged with one another, and to reach out and help each other through hard times. That’s really nice and they get an A+ for that. I more am hung up on the theological origins of evil, and also if Paul was the worst kind of friend to have or not.