Lessons from Saddleback
Last August, our San Francisco community bid us farewell as we made our way south, behind what they called the Orange Curtain. We moved to Orange County when my husband joined the faculty at the University of California at Irvine. In making this move, we chose to say yes to Southern California: yes to the new landscape, jobs, schools, daily rhythm, politics, neighbors. Adapt or die, we thought. We readily chose to adapt, genuinely eager for something new.
For the last eight months, upon waking, I’ve opened our bedroom curtains to palm trees and bougainvillaea, and the sunrise over Saddleback Mountain, reflected in our neighbor’s east-facing windows. In the flats below Saddleback sits Pastor Rick Warren’s famed evangelical Christian church of the same name. Pastor Rick is renown for his influential teachings on living a purpose-driven life, and on building a purpose-driven church. He is credited with mobilizing thousands on the Christian right through both his message and his methods. Some progressive social movement organizers consider Pastor Rick’s books required reading for understanding how conservatives have managed to organize themselves so well.
Last Sunday, I drove east with my mother and a friend to attend services at Saddleback Church. We toured the enormous campus, weaving in and out of the Sunday school classrooms–five of which are dedicated to the three year olds alone–as a sense of scale slowly sank in. Greeters explained all of the ways community members can lean on Saddleback, not only for spiritual guidance, but for legal assistance, financial counseling, and every kind of support group imaginable, from addiction recovery to infertility. The handout read, “We’re better together.”
As we settled into the risers, the empty seats filled around us. Young couples in shorts and polo shirts, groups of single women in jeans rolled up with heels, families with hoodied teenagers lingering behind. On the stage, a Christian rock band visiting from London pounded out a baseline that reverberated through the crowd a refrain I cannot shake. My voice joined the 4,000 others in the room, in what felt to me not unlike an evening of kirtan in my more familiar haunts. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I hope to say more later, when my kids are not tugging me into Sunday morning play. For now, suffice it to say that I left Saddleback with a profound sense of longing for my disparate communities of progressive social change makers to have an infrastructure that could provide any semblance of that kind of stability and extended family. I left with a feeling of rolling up my sleeves: what would it take to make a secular church? What would it take to allow ourselves to dwell together in awe of the infinite, to take care of each other when we get sick, to study together the ancient texts, and drive each other to the voting booths? I join the chorus in saying with humility that we have a lot to learn.
What would truly supportive community look like in your life? What would it take to create that? Does it depend always on a charismatic leader and common faith? If not, what is the glue? What are your dreams for community interdependence? I welcome your comments and musings here.