Lessons from ‘Olive Kitteridge': Embracing Complex Lives

 
This month our book club is reading “Olive Kitteridge” By Elizabeth Strout . The book won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 
 
It’s a book of short stories in which, Olive Kitteridge, a seventh-grade math teacher and the wife of a pharmacist, is always present in some way or another. The collection of stories are easy to read and impossible to forget. I was fascinated by the book (on many levels) and even though I read the book more than six months ago, the impression it made on me continues have an influence.
Olive isn’t a nice person but as the stories continue, a more complicated portrait of the woman emerges. By the book’s very structure, “sliding in and out of different unrelated stories and different perspectives, it illuminates both what people understand about others and what they understand about themselves“. I think that what appeals to me most about the book – is that by watching one woman’s life unfold one realises that all people are complex, that there is always more to them than our perception. The conclusion one reaches after reading the story is that we need to try to understand people from different viewpoints and its that aspect that has held my curiosity as I have continued to think about this book.
The fact that so much of a person is actually concealed from others, means that labeling a person is actually a superficial act which probably says more about us than the other person. 
 
I fall into that trap all the time. In order to make sense of my world and the people who come in and out I categorize them and having sorted out in my mind what is relevant (to me) about them I flatten their character and often make them one-dimensional. This tendency is not an admirable one. It’s not one of Grace.
From the opposite perspective, I feel wounded when someone evaluates me and then places me in a pigeonhole.  Long before I started my more mobile existence I realised I was often different things in different situations and with different people. Of course, moving between different cultures and countries compounds that. I feel enlivened by friends who don’t need to rationalize everything about me and who don’t feel the need to “fix” me. 

I am more than you know me as…

I loved the way the author of this book gives us many different angles from which to see the same person. It was a reminder that my preference has always been to try to be understanding of people’s multifaceted lives.
 
But in a more radical way, my Heavenly Dad encourages me to be like Him and to go further by loving people unconditionally.
He doesn’t say I first have to understand them, formulate an opinion of them, or only love them when they deserve it, or when they are behaving responsibly or when they are doing things my way or in the way that makes me feel comfortable.
 
And so, my prayer is that I allow His Love in me to love the lives He interfaces with mine. Period.

How do continual mobility and Church fit together?

These musings have drifted across my mind over the last few weeks. Maybe it’s the reading that I’ve been doing (books that I have had a long time but for some reason never read until now). Maybe it’s because I have been working with a team on the idea of what to value in terms of spiritual formation. But all of this has had me mulling over these matters….
Traditional church believes people need a system to grow spiritually and function together as a community and a cause.
But what about those of us who don’t fit into a box?Those who work unpredictable shifts, those who move a great deal, who nurse an ill spouse and cannot participate in organized churches. What about my Third Culture Kids who aren’t anywhere long enough to call a church “home”. What does this premise say about us? How are we to operate? How can we experience transformational Life?
And how does it relate to what scripture teaches?
Which is that: all believers are equally equipped with the necessary spiritual resources for knowing God and ministering to others.
If I believe that He is living His life in and through me as part of the body of Christ, His church, wherever I am and with whoever I come across each day then surely I am part of His Life and have a purpose whether I belong to a formal group of believers or not?
Said another way:
·         All of us have an equal “calling” to know God and He allows us to grow and be transformed by the power of His Love in many different ways.
·         We are also equally called to make Him known within our ordinary lives and amidst the people we connect with each day. Furthermore, because I believe that I am a unique, personal conduit of His life in this world and that I was born to live supernaturally doing His work by His power, this is something I can expect, as I depend on His Spirit.
What does all this mean for me?·        I sense I am joining a group of believers who are not part of organized church and that don’t believe they need to be in order to grow spiritually and function according to their calling.

·         I believe am being called to participate in a way of being the church that is transportable, not restricted to a location or a particular group of people.
·         I see this as an ‘intentional’ process and know that in many ways it will require a new focus and an ongoing willingness to be ‘present’ in all situations to my Father’s voice.
·        This excites my heart and offers me hope in my current stage of life.
I am not trying to say that I have a new way of doing Life that is “right” or should replace organized church. But I am sharing a bit of where Father is taking me in this season. Perhaps it will offer hope to those of you who (for whatever reason) are struggling with being part of an organised church. I think there are some of us out there who are not called to “belong” to one group and who have the privilege of carrying His love and His hope into the world in a different way and that this can be as exciting, meaningful and transforming as participating in traditional structures.
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”
Galatians 5:25 (NLT)