A Spirited Outlook
Life can be grim, but our response to it needn’t be.
By Dave Schmelzer
Just overa decade ago, my wife (Grace Coltrin, ’90) and I moved to Cambridge, Mass., to help start, of all things, a church.
This was an odd choice in a number of ways, not least of which was that at that time I was a playwright, not a pastor. Two other Stanford grads pitched the idea to us on the grounds that, effectively, no one went to church in Cambridge (about 2 percent of the population, on par with most of Western Europe and Japan) and maybe a different cultural approach to faith would prove helpful.
We’ve discovered lots of fun things in our time here—among them that our friends (Charles Park, ’90, and Rich Lamb, ’82) were right. Several thousand people have made their way to us over the years (on the average Sunday, we see about a thousand folks), including lots of those dreaded Harvard people. We noticed one key distinction between our experiences at Stanford and what we were seeing in Cambridge. It seemed to Grace and me that the cool Stanford student was the one who did better than you on the test, but ostensibly hadn’t studied for it, who seemed to have spent all his time playing Ultimate Frisbee. At Harvard, the cool person was the one who’d done better than you on the test, but then loudly told you that he’d studied for five days straight, skipping meals. Both of these are poses, but—Stanford pride coming out—one seemed like a more fun pose than the other.
As we tried to describe the spirit of Cambridge (and Boston—we started a second site of our church in the Back Bay), the words that came to mind were grim drivenness. This is not to say this isn’t an astoundingly interesting, dynamic place, which it awesomely is. But most people we meet struggle with hardworking misery and share with us their plaintive hope that it would be great if a church could actually help on that front.
When you left school, what was your dream for the rest of your life? Presumably enjoying life was in the swirl of your hopes. Most people I meet—from carpenters and service workers to university deans and CEOs to stay-at-home parents—want more from their circumstances. Most people want to make a difference in their worlds. I talk lots and lots with folks about those matters. But two things about the enjoyment of life tend to trump everything else as bottom lines: (1) how we’re getting along with the people around us, and (2) what our battle plan is for looking forward to the day in front of us. A lot of what I and our other church leaders do boils down to validating those desires as worth hanging onto with Rottweiler intensity. Jesus, after all, did press us not to settle for anything less than a life that feels like it overflows.
This it-doesn’t-take-a-genius insight—about taking seriously what our lives actually feel like—seems to have been what’s most gotten the attention of these nonreligious types who find their way to us. Here’s what one man recently wrote to me about what’s changed for him along these lines.
Me before: No friends, into pornography, broken marriage, horribly burdened at work, can’t sleep at night, detached from my own emotions, complete lack of hope for the future, favorite saying (no joke): “every day is worse than the one before.”
Me after: Great friends, incredible hope, sexually pure, conversations with my creator, sleep eight hours a night, improved relationship with my now ex-wife, have seen my daughter, mother and sister find God, seeking God’s will in my life and know He will fulfill it.
So hang in there in your passion for a life of whole and deep relationships and the kind of persistent joy that makes each day promise-rich. Get some like-minded friends to join you in that journey. Even here, in my city of the furrowed brow, it seems that if you seek, you will—who knew?—find.
DAVE SCHMELZER, ’84, is the senior pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Cambridge, Mass.
- Be the first one to add a comment. You must log in to comment.
The Effort Effect
Let Me Introduce Myself
Seeing at the Speed of Sound
Dunder Mifflin Going Out of Business
Data is from the past two weeks.