Wrestling Thoughts: Public vs. Private

Over the past week I have really been mulling over a post on the micro-church written by Andrew Conard. Some of the comments really got me thinking about public life vs. private life. You can read the post and comments here.

Now I think there is some genuine wrestling with one of the commenters on the functionality of the “home” within the life of a faith community. The commenter states:

I am wondering about possible shifts in the concept of “home” from other eras when this worked in the past, like the early church or even early Methodism. Seems like we have a great many more public places to gather; resturants, coffee shops, movie theatres, etc than might have been available in the past. “Home” seemes even more private, intimate, vulnerable to me becuase of this.

I assume your concept is that it is easier to invite someone to one’s home than elsewhere, but isn’t it possible that it is also harder?

I think these are important questions to ask, but it really got me thinking about some thoughts I have had over the past few months. Why is there such an emphasis on privacy? There really seems to be the strong demarcation between public and private and I am wondering if our Christian Identity calls us to challenge those sentiments.

I constantly am reminded as a young pastor that I need to make sure that I take time for myself and my family. I know this stems from pastors in the past spending all their time at work or allowing their work to dictate their life to the point that it led to exhaustion and split families. However, maybe I am just wired different. I believe that our lives as disciples call us to journey with our brothers and sisters in Christ and to grow together, and I am sorry but isn’t the best way to get to know someone in their home? Isn’t there something about having someone over for a meal and having discussion? Isn’t there something about them seeing the photos you have on the wall and asking questions about the people causing you to share a bit more about who you are? Have we lost this?

Why is the home avoided in so many instances within the life of the church? We gather with these same people on Sundays and yet for most members of the church they might not even be able to tell you where most of the people live, let alone their story? Pastors have an interesting position in that they can do home visits, etc. and get to know those within the community better, but shouldn’t this be what we are all doing? How can anyone feel comfortable sharing their struggles if no one truly knows who they are? Isn’t it in these interactions in the home where intimacy between individuals is fused?

Public life seems to have allowed us to be totally anonymous while still feeling connected. We do have so many public places, but that makes it to easy for us to “feel” connected to people without really connecting with them. When I invite someone to my home that means that I care enough about them that I am willing to open up a space that our culture has made almost exclusively private. People can see the photos (even those embarrassing photos that show the fashions of times gone by), people use the bathroom (and you risk them seeing that place where you trust they will not snoop–the medicine cabinet–or in our case the “drawers”), you allow them to see how you live, what you value. People enter into your life. Not only that but when you invite someone into your home, you don’t just welcome them and then invite them to take a seat on the couch while you make the meal, serve it, and then speak only to your family (wouldn’t that be awkward?….oh wait that is probably what it feels like for many to come into our churches…oh snap). No, you invite them in, you talk to them, you ask them questions, you allow them to enter into your life by getting to know you intimately.

Perhaps that is why I have structured part of my campus ministry the way I have. Each week (beginning in October after I get back from paternity leave….whenever this 2nd son of ours arrives) we will gather at my house to have a meal and to celebrate the Eucharist around the table. People will get to know me and my family and I will get to know them as we journey together to understand God and how our lives interact with our faith. This intimate discussion just couldn’t happen in a public setting because it is just too easy for us to remain anonymous.

This means that some of my “family” or “private” time is being invaded by my job, but you know what….my wife and I would have it no other way. We, as disciples, are fed by connecting with and learning from other disciples. These students are part of our family and we know of no other way to know them intimately than to invite them into our home where they can see all of our warts and blemishes but also really know who we are.

Perhaps we do really need to look more deeply at each faith community’s relationship to public and private life. If most of our members have never been to other member’s homes we might have to ask ourselves what type of community we are?

Just thoughts I continue to wrestle with.

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2 comments

  1. Justin – I'm very much in agreement with you (and with your struggle as well). I love your ideas for Sunday evenings! Keep up the great works.

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