Editor’s Note: Throughout the month of June our writers will explore the way that God, grace, and the gospel show up in pop culture
I think I finally found a new church.
I’ve been searching for a long time. I need a place where people accept me unconditionally, even when I make huge mistakes and have bad ideas. And thank God I found it. Right in front me. Right here on Hulu. It’s the TV show New Girl.
One night my husband turned on a show with some woman in little girl/old lady dresses talking dramatically to three/four really immature guys. They all lived in a big loft together. I rolled my eyes. “Nope. This show looks lame.” He said, “I really think you would like it, but okay.” He turned it off.
A couple months went by. The only things left in the queue were some documentaries we’re never going to watch. So my husband suggested New Girl again, and I relented. I laughed so hard. My husband smiled knowingly. We watched all five seasons.
It is the story of the “adorkable” school teacher, Jess, and her three or four male roommates. Nick is the unkempt bartender (former law school student), Schmidt is the Jewish business professional (former overweight outcast), Winston is the clueless cop (former basketball player, radio host, and manny) and Coach has always been the coach. Her lifelong best friend, Cecilia, is the gorgeous Indian model.
You know going into it that Jess and at least one of the guys is going to hook up, and that one of the other guys is going to fall for her best friend, Cece. You know that there will be classic sitcom shenanigans, impossible situations, avoidable misunderstandings, and lots of casual sex.
I’m a 43-year-old suburban mom that’s been happily married for almost 20 years to the only person with whom I’ve ever had sex. I love Jesus, memorize the Bible, and pray all the time. I have three kids who beg me to stop talking about God. Nothing in my life looks like New Girl.
I feel so cozy and happy inside when I watch New Girl. They all have such great hearts. They’re all so weird. They love each other. This show pulled off that magical thing where you think the characters are your friends.
When Jess starts singing and batting her eyelashes in the middle of her daily life I smile and think, “Oh, that Jess! She always does that.” When Nick gets all mad in his flannel shirt I think, “Oh, Nick! Not again, you crazy kid!” When Schmidt proposes inappropriate sexual ideas I somehow laugh and say, “Put another dollar in the Douchebag Jar, Schmitty!”
My children will not be allowed to watch this show until they are 35.
I want to be invited to the loft. I want to play the True American drinking game all night and brush my teeth in the common bathroom. I want to be invited to disastrous Thanksgivings and get honest relationship advice from people with terrible romantic histories. I really do! I want what the people on New Girl have.
They have uncommon grace, compassion, acceptance, generosity, and loyalty. More than any of us expect from church.
New Girl is what I wish life in Christ could be. I know sin, repentance, and boundaries are realities, but I think they are often excuses to stop loving people. When things get messy we get hurt and we run. We are not good at the art of unconditional love.
When I walk into church I know I need to have my crap together. I need to look clean, talk clean, and pray clean. I need to be a silent observer for a long time to learn the secret handshakes and cultural taboos. I need to know at what prescribed times it’s okay to express my lament and confusion and then know how to do it in prescribed ways. I know it’s not okay to be “me.”
This happens with small groups, Bible studies, and prayer partners, too. I’ve gone to them, invited people to them, designed them, and led them. I want to be in Christian fellowship with you, but really only if you never disagree, offend, or confuse me. Because if you do, we’re going to have an uncomfortable talk, pray about it together, hug, and live wary of each other for a couple of years.
I can’t blame the church for this. Because I am the church. I’m skilled at boundaries and discernment, but I’m not good at grace. I talk a good game about including others, but most of my friends are just like me. I want to be unconditionally accepted, but I’m easily repulsed by other people’s choices and pain.
I really do need a new church. I know I won’t find a church like New Girl. But maybe I can be more like New Girl wherever I go.
Some questions about Community:
- What does your ideal community look like? Picture it. How old is everyone? What are they wearing? Where do they work? What music do they like? What’s their education level? How are you similar to the community you describe. How are you different?
- What is the best community experience you’ve ever had? Was it in a Christian setting? At work? A neighborhood? What made it good? If it’s not still good, what broke it? What have you learned from the good and bad?
- People are such annoying sinners. I hardly get into trouble when I’m by myself. Why do you think God made us to live in relationships? If we weren’t in community would there be any need for grace?
Some verses about Community:
- Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. – Romans 14:1
- Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. – Romans 12:16
- Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. – Ephesians 4:3
- I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. – Romans 16:17
- And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25
- Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. – 1 Peter 3:8