Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
As much as we authors like to imagine that our words are for the whole world, they’re not. Only a certain subset of readers will enjoy any given writer. To be effective, a writer has to know his audience. He has to have a clear picture of the person who will get something of value from his prose, and then write with that person in mind. I write for Eleanor Rigby, among others. Yes, she’s an imaginary character in the Beatles song that is named for her. And yes, she’s dead. But she is a convenient placeholder for me, a stand-in for all the hurting real people whose names I don’t know, but whose stories I can intuitively sense.
A Facebook friend recently shared a post about “virtual living.” The post talked about how people so often substitute virtual experiences for real ones; watching TV instead of getting out and doing something; interacting with virtual friends online instead of visiting a real friend in person. I’ll ignore the obvious irony of someone posting this to their 150,000+ Facebook followers, and concentrate on the responses the post got. Several of them brought Eleanor Rigby to mind. Two especially stuck out at me:
A woman with the initials JDN said: So true. It’s heartbreaking. While this scenario is without any connection, it may be all some people are afforded in certain seasons. Church is one of the loneliest places I go. I love the Body, but it hurts to be there many times.
And a man with the initial MH added this: Maybe it is because a lot of folks have been damaged by real people, so they prefer to avoid the pain and live in isolation. I’ve attended many churches through the years, and as a result of it, decided I would rather steer clear of “well meaning Christians” that have no idea how to treat others with compassion, love, and understanding. I finally found a church that “gets it”. There are a lot of hurting people out there. Some of them are struggling to just get through the day. I don’t fault them for it…
The church is an organism. It’s the body of Christ, composed of all the people who are part of it. But many of us experience the church more as an organization than as an organism. It can seem to be all about hierarchies, budgets, and programs rather than people in an organic relationship. It can be full of folks who are busy, and harried, and yes, lonely. Sometimes the relationships in a congregation aren’t much deeper than the virtual relationships we have on Facebook.
I’ve begun to understand that most of my ministerial and artistic endeavors are aimed at people like MH and JDN. And Eleanor Rigby. On the surface, Fighting Back is a novel about what happens when a young man named Eddie gets into a fight while sticking up for a harassed woman on the street. The brief fight puts Eddie in the cross-hairs of some very bad people. Complications and consequences ensue. But there is another story here, one I think many Christians will relate to: the question of why churches like Eddie’s sometimes grievously injure the very people they exist to help. It’s a very real problem. Fortunately, I believe there are real solutions to it. They’re also part of the story.
If you love God, but haven’t always loved church (or felt that church loved you), then you are my audience. If you have ever joined a church hoping not to encounter the issues you encountered in your three (or more!) previous ones, you are my audience. And if you can relate to the expression “there is no hurt like church hurt,” then you are my audience. I wrote Fighting Back with you in mind. It might even help you heal.