So, I have around eight posts half-finished about recent dinners, a birthday, people I must mention, a manly baby shower, and eggplants that I really need to complete and post for your probable/hopeful/demanded enjoyment. However, something occurred last night which needs to be written of immediately. So, here it is.
I’ve mentioned SOCRG before. They’re the Catechism reading group I started a little over two years ago, which has grown and grown and become very important to me and most likely to them as well. Last night was Wednesday night (as you may recall), and thus was also a SOCRG evening. Other SOCRGers have been hosting a lot lately, which has been great, but this week we were back at my house. I decided to make one of my favorite soups in honor of last weekend’s weather (which was tragically a fall false-start—something with which all Texans are familiar). I also decided to be snotty and warn SOCRG that they’d be left to their own devices in the living room if they came at a proposed 6:30pm instead of the typical 7:00pm, which spooked most of them into arriving closer to 7:00pm and avoiding the kitchen like the rabid cook’s den it had become. Just rude of me, I know. Truly uncharitable, as my first thought was that I’m the only one with a regular ol’ 9-5, might not have enough soup time, wah, wah, etc. Take this as a warning: resist self-pity or you’ll feel like a real asshole when something like I’m about to describe occurs.
So, I made my soup—this time with some rosemary, balsamic, crimini mushroom flourish—imperiously directed John to carry it into the living room, opened a beer, and was eying all the bread (and DESSERTS) everyone had kindly brought as we settled from our general milling about and talking to somewhat quieter anticipation of dinner. I did the loud, “okay,” and Miriel made the mistake of helping to shush and gather attention and was duly forced to pray for our meal and time together. I remember noting that her prayer was particularly heart-felt and touching before we all joined her in praying grace. That done, I started turning to the soup BUT was stopped by Ryan saying I don’t even remember what. That’s when I noticed everyone was looking at me with the same knowing look and casually tried to hide behind a door post. DeAnn told me I might want to sit down, and then several members of the group beautifully expressed what SOCRG has meant to them and thanked me for starting it.
Ryan blamed his conversion on it; DeAnn remembered the early days and remarked on SOCRG’s homelike qualities; Andrea and Miriel expressed their gratitude at being welcomed, and finding true community here. At this point I was trying not to cry (which I found later what the major goal of the evening). I mainly succeeded, just barely, much to these kind people’s frustration. Then, Luke read a poem he had written just for the occasion, which was delightful.
And the freakouts did not stop there. Andrea presented me with a gift from the group that I very awkwardly started to open while everyone stared at me. She had handmade a beautiful card with herbs painted all over it, in which DeAnn had written the kindest things possible, and everyone had signed.
Then I rooted around in the gift bag and saw a box with this symbol on it:
I had a distinct fight or flight kind of emotion and just said, “no,” as all the blood drained from my face. They had given me the best knife in the entire world (Wusthof Classic line, all one piece, forged, etc.), that knife’s lil’ baby cousin (of the same quality), a Wusthof cutting board, and a honing contraption. FOR NO REASON. I mean, for lots of reasons they stated, but no distinct occasion. Just ‘cause. They had been emailing and planning it for almost a month—ever since the second SOCRGversary.
And it wasn’t over. Ryan then stepped out and got his guitar and harmonica. He had written a song about SOCRG. So, he played it for everyone while I tried to control the weird expressions my face was making.
It was wonderful. The verses were funny and specific—about our foods and craft beers and things people have said and topics to avoid in the group. My favorite verse goes as follows: “Now we’ve got Thomists and poets, / Franciscans and Koreans, fathers and mothers to be, / And they all disagree. That’s the beauty.” When he got to the chorus, everyone started singing! They had practiced and memorized the whole thing. It was so bizarre. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’m still feeling a bit shell-shocked from it the next day.
There is something about this group that is unlike any other community I’ve been a part of. After we had eaten soup, listened to Clifton’s conversion story, discussed purgatory, tried Andrea’s best-cookies-in-the-universe (chocolate chip with browned butter, Nutella centers, and sea salt), Clifton’s delicious pralines (pecan, bourbon, brown sugar treats), Alli’s epitome-of-fall baked apples, and many had dispersed, a few stragglers and I discussed what makes SOCRG so special. The conclusion we generally came to is that SOCRG is community in its proper place. This doesn’t just mean that we have a proper amount of small group self-revelation or something—though I think we’re right on target for that. It means that the center and lifeblood (literally) of our faith is found in the Mass, and thus SOCRG cannot have a primary or necessary role in our experience of the Church. This certainly does not make SOCRG less important; it just makes it what it is: a community of personal friends joined by affection, shared beliefs, and a communal task. “Church” has got to be more than that. As Flannery O’Connor said, if the Church isn’t more than that it turns into an Elks Club; in which case an Elks club would serve just as well.
As an adolescent (a period which I believe for me ended in 2009/2010), my friends were my only understanding of the Church. Trying to separate my faith, or even my personhood, from the people I was close to was a pretty impossible mental exercise that I never even tried. This might sound like a good thing to people who value community, but that’s wrong (wrong, wrong). When the group I was a part of after college disintegrated—moved away or no longer a part of my life for various reasons—I was left with what felt like absolutely nothing (and pretty much was—at this point I was living on the life-saving Moore’s futon). It was like I had never been alone with myself before, and I had to face how much less of me there was than I had believed when surrounded by a variety of shared identities. (This is related to my previous post about what we build our lives with.) Yet, I was also surprised by what remained. When day-dreaming about catastrophe in the past I could never have imagined how much I lost in 2010. Yet, when I had lost it, I survived. I didn’t just implode and die—unable to go on without the structures of relationship I had had before. So, I staggered toward the stuff of substance that remained; which is really how SOCRG started.
Anyway (excuse the most personal post of my life), the point is that that won’t happen with SOCRG. It just can’t, by nature. If SOCRG dissolved this instant it wouldn’t rock any of our self-conceptions. It just doesn’t bear that much improper weight. Despite the clear obsession, celebratory song, etc., SOCRG’s focus is not on SOCRG. We don’t just meet to catch up or eat food, we meet in order to learn and conform ourselves to the teachings of the Church. This happened in each of us before SOCRG was a stupid email subject acronym and will continue long after SOCRG is a distant (hopefully pleasant) memory. The very first time SOCRG even became self-aware was after over a year of weekly meetings. And during our first group-self-aware conversation, DeAnn talked beautifully about the grace God conveys through bringing a group of people together and then inevitably sending them apart again. The work we do is hopefully permanent; the group itself definitely isn’t.
So, SOCRG: thank you. Not just for your insane generosity in giving me the material good I have wanted most in the world, but for teaching me what community actually is: just one of the means of our sanctification. Let’s never allow our meals together to pretend to be anything other than an echo of our true unity in the Eucharist.
Soup recipe to come!