The Autoethnography: Ten Examples
Steven looked down at his hands that were neatly folded loosely around his coffee. “We suffer the same struggles and temptations as everybody else,” he said. “We are human. We gain connection through our beliefs and through what we work to abstain from together…there is community in that we are all striving for the same goal.”
I considered what he said while chewing my lower lip before choosing careful words, “That makes sense. I get it. I always thought about it like a school, simply just teaching. I never considered that it’s just like any other club or team or group, you’re all working to achieve a goal.”
Steven knew me well enough to know all about the labyrinth of walls I had built up around my opinions of religion. I didn’t have a lot of personal experience with it, but that which I did was not positive. I had a bad attitude and a wicked mindset that to have faith simply does not make sense.
To put it bluntly, I watched my parents lose their religion. Maybe it was the fact that my church was home to a priest involved in the sexual abuse scandals, or that my two older brothers were altar boys under his direction, or maybe it was the growing string of family members that died too young, I don’t know. As a child, I kept absorbing their anger and disappointment, turning it into information that I based my opinion of the church on: it had betrayed us and everyone who still trusted in it was only fooling himself or herself. All I was left with was a cynicism for religion that never seemed to stop hardening.
Steven and I threw out our empty coffee cups and began our walk to the Regal Cinema. He walked in front of me, an eighteen year old of average height with a frame that was filled out with bulky muscle. He wore old black Converse and fitted jeans with worn knees and small tears. His black hair was spiked and crunchy with gel underneath his gray beanie that flopped lazily on his head underneath the hood of his sweatshirt. His leather jacket was well loved and stained from the salt of Boston winters.
“In you go!” he laughed, pushing me up the concrete steps. Steven believed I had to experience this on my own in order to gain the most pure knowledge so I was to go in first, and he would follow in a few minutes, picking a seat a few rows behind me.
The smell of buttery, rich, movie theater popcorn wafted into my nose. I smiled as I walked up the steps, following families, couples, and friends. I had never thought of a movie theater as anything other than a place to pay way too much money in order to watch a movie, but that was clearly about to change.
As I approached theater seven, I felt my stomach roll a little bit inside me and I wiped sweaty palms on my sweater. I hadn’t been to church myself since I was six or seven years old and my vague recollection was only of being silent in my pew, following instructions to sit and stand, and trying to understand the complex hymns I was singing. I was a child seen not heard, wearing one of my best dresses. It had always been serious.
In front of me was a movie theater transformed. Members of the church sat in seats, while a podium and tables lined the front of the theater, right in front of the screen. Projected onto the screen was “Mosaic Boston” in big bold letters. I looked around, kind of baffled at the things I was seeing. Everyone was laughing and smiling with one another, greeting fellow church members with big hugs, not stiff handshakes. I immediately felt the knot in my stomach loosen. There was an air of friendship, a welcoming aura that took me by surprise, drawing me to sit in the middle of the theater, not the back corner as originally planned. From the hall entered a band of five members. Two guitars, a base, drums, and a singer began to play. I listened as they carried on a pop-rock melody, feeling the knot loosen yet again as the music comforted me.
The greetings slowed down and the talking ceased. Now there was only the beauty that comes from many voices joining together to sing the same words. Many people stood at their seats, keeping time with their bodies, dancing with their children or swaying back and forth with their companions. Unity had taken hold of everyone in that room, and though I knew I was an outsider, I didn’t feel like one.
After two songs, the Pastor Jan stepped up to the microphone, iPad in hand. He was a young man, maybe in his early thirties. He wore thick-rimmed glasses and a smile that was contagious. Between the iPad and the genuine smile, this church already felt like a completely different world than I had expected. It appeared to be a very fresh take on practicing religion, modernized and efficient. Jan began to speak.
“Welcome to Mosaic Boston. We are a new interdenominational church, and we are so happy to have you with us today. We have members here from more than sixteen different countries!” I raised my eyebrows. To me, that was an incredible fact. There were people here from all over the world, yet they choose to come together under this roof all for one purpose.
“We are a Mosaic, built of many different pieces, to come together to create something beautiful.” I felt as if I was being read poetry. Sure, it was a blaring metaphor, but it did wonders to help me to understand what the goals of this church were. They simply wanted to unite people based on their beliefs. I didn’t feel like an outsider because it didn’t matter who I was; I was going to be accepted, just like many had been before me.
“Today we are going to talk about what unites us.” I froze. Was this a joke? Seriously, it was way too perfect. I adjusted in my seat and listened.
“It is not only our belief in Jesus, but our love for Him. Love is what brings us together. And not only the love for Him but also the love we give to others. The love I give to you, the love you give to me, the love we give to friends, family, and neighbors, even strangers. Love brings us together.” I looked around me as many nodded in approval. The couple in front of me looked at each other, and he planted a kiss on her forehead.
Steven’s words echoed in my head yet again. He was explaining to me how people have so many stereotypes for those who are practicing Christians. They are often expected to be gay hating, judgmental, bible thumpers. What people often forget is that love is the most important, fundamental part of Christianity and that’s what he strives to live by.
As the sermon went on, I found my attention being held by the endearing way that Jan spoke about love and the Bible. Plus, the way that each bible verse was projected onto the screen helped me to follow along. I felt as if I was learning about Jesus, but also about myself as many parts of the sermon were introspective. He lightened tense moments with stories about his young daughters, one of which claimed he loved her because she is obedient, smart, and of course beautiful. The entire theater laughed because kids say the darndest things and all, but we were transitioned into a discussion about selfless love. Jan seemed to reach peak intensity as he challenged us to live a more selfless life, and the knot in my stomach tightened once again.
The band made its way back out onto the floor and began another catchy song with a jazzy swing. I stood up with the rest of the crowd and tapped a toe along with the beat. The joyousness still bounced among all that had gathered and children laughed and danced, rewarding themselves for having been silent and still for so long.
I looked around. I was standing in the center of a diverse group of human beings. I saw people from different towns, countries, and religious backgrounds; people with different levels of wealth, religious interest, and education. At the brunch, just a few hours later, Mosaic’s devoted volunteer Eric explained to me how he and the other volunteers work tirelessly to make Mosaic inviting for everyone. They focus on what these people are here for, to strengthen and celebrate their faith, and then use that initial connection to help members build friendships with outside activities.
He told me, “…they [church members] would probably never meet each other without Mosaic. And if they did they probably wouldn’t form the bond they have…we try to build off of that.” Again, things started to make sense to me. This church wasn’t simply a place of worship, but a catalyst for members to build relationships with people of like values. This church was not about following rules about when to sit and stand, it was about building up more than one part of your life to be stronger in order to meet that ultimate goal. This goal changes from person to person; it could be strong faith, everlasting life in heaven, or maybe simply happiness. The common thread was the ways these people worked to achieve their goals, by working in their faith.
Eric confirmed my thoughts when talking about the struggles of being Christian and how to pull oneself out of a dark time. He said simply, “…our brothers and sisters have a huge influence in helping us see our way out of difficulties, especially when it comes to our own relationship with God.” The Church members weren’t there to judge me or anyone else. They were there to strengthen their own faith and help give strength to those around them.
We began to slowly exit the theater as the band slowed to a stop. Outside theater 7, I recognized Jan standing, shaking hands and giving hugs as devoted members exited on their way to Sunday brunch.
“Excuse me, miss!” I turned around. Jan stood in front of me with a smile on his face. “I don’t recognize you, I just wanted to say welcome to Mosaic.” I grinned, feeling the love he had so solidly preached about just a few minutes before.
“Thank you very much,” I answered, shaking his hand before turning to go. I walked towards the exit, the smell of rich butter in my nose, and an honest smile stretching across my face.
James, Eric. Personal interview. 19 Dec. 2014.
“Mosaic Boston Church: A New Church in Boston, Fenway and Allston.” Mosaic Boston Church. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2014.
Scott, Steven. Personal interview. 15 Nov. 2014.
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