This week I continue on my Mountain Church Trek with a processing party at a Biker Church, and thoughts on Kathy Escobar‘s book “Faith Shift: Finding your way forward when everything you believe is coming apart.”
“Hope for spiritual refugees, church burnouts and freedom seekers.”
A Processing Party
Outside, a bitter November wind bit our fingers and faces. Inside, small pods of friends and strangers huddled around tables. The group of refugees and church misfits had traveled on a frigid night to gather for a processing party. Our destination, a drafty little warehouse-turned-coffee-bar community building, was spare and hard to locate. The Biker Church (as in Harley, not Tour de France) was tucked inconspicuously in a low-income neighborhood, down the alley from a business that recycles appliances and mattresses. The cold stripped-down industrial area served as a perfect setting for those of us who have been, each in our own ways, stripping down what we’ve known as church.
We nibbled on snacks, held warm beverages, listened, marinated on ideas, and vulnerably tangled ourselves in an interactive conversation faith and community.
I want you to know what we talked about. Because I came home with an extra dose of warm hope tucked in my pocket.
Tender and Sacred
“Our faith is the most tender and sacred part of us.”
Author and pastor, Kathy Escobar, facilitated the processing party. Kathy is a prolific writer, speaker, and mom to 5 kids in north Denver, Colorado where she also co-pastors The Refuge, a progressive church community. She has a contagious smile, a disarming openness, and an overflow of passion. In her own words she’d say, “I’m most passionate about community, the marginalized, healing, spiritual transformation, equality, justice, “church”, relationships, diversity, and learning to love and be loved.”
At some point, I stumbled on Kathy’s bog series Rebuilding after Deconstructing and was immediately drawn to her shared experience and language for my own journey. Kathy speaks to many who are scattered, disenfranchised with church, and are seeking to rebuild a sense of community around faith. Her most recent book, “Faith Shift” captures the angst and offers a path.
My husband and I related to her content because at times we have felt like a crazy lonely minority. For the past couple of years we have been in a community free float, unable to find many others who shared our experience or language. So many non-essential pieces of how we used to express our faith changed, fell away, or clarified in ways that have made us feel like we no longer internally fit the way we used to fit inside church. So naturally, we were interested in a shared conversation about our experiences.
Symptoms of a Faith Shift
At the processing party, Kathy introduced herself and jumped right in with the following watershed list from her book. As she read, my husband and I and a handful of fellow refugees, kept looking at each other wide-eyed. Not every item applied. But enough did.
“After years of participating in a comfortable and comforting tradition, countless believers have begun a slow drift or experienced a dramatic event that lands them in a spiritual wilderness. See if any of these statements describe you:
- I don’t even know how to articulate where I am spiritually these days
- I have experienced a significant shift in my theology or faith perspective and find myself feeling disoriented or unsure
- I feel scared that if I share some of these doubts and concerns out loud, that I will be judged, scripturized, or ostracized
- I feel sad, angry, afraid, and lost after a painful church experience
- I’m afraid I am on a spiritual slippery slope and have no idea if I’ll survive the landing
- I’ve stopped going to church altogether because I couldn’t take it anymore
- I have lost respect for my pastors and leaders and no longer trust their leadership or authority
- I feel betrayed or abandoned by God
- When I am around Christians I have no desire to be like them or to be associated with them anymore.
- I haven’t picked up my Bible in a long time and don’t have any desire to
- I worry that if I disconnect from church, my kids will miss out on developing their faith, so I keep going for them” *
If you relate to some or many of these, chances are good; you are in a shift, too. And, you are in good company.
Side Note to Protesters
As I copied and pasted that list (above) just now, in my head I heard the protesters — the ones from my former church life who will read those symptoms and get bothered, worried, offended. If you just read that list and feel the need to use the words “backslider” or “apostate” or “heretic” — if somewhere in your heart, you know that’s you — hear me say this:
People in this process need a safe place to be loved and known in order to unravel and rebuild.
Most churches create small groups and educational space for ‘new believers’ and ‘discipleship’ and ‘Bible study.’ But I think this is a critical question for my protesting friends … is there room for a faith-shifter’s doubts and questions in your community?
If not, which parts in that list of symptoms is most frightening or threatening?
Maybe you are hearing about this tension of faith for the first time. Or maybe you recognize the symptoms of friends who left your church and you are hurt, confused or angry. I highly recommend reading THIS if you feel uncomfortable with the idea of an established Christian in a shift of faith.
For Those in the Shift
When you looked at that list of relatable symptoms, did you find some description of yourself? If so, do not despair. Really. Don’t give up. There’s reason to keep moving toward God. I hold to this Bible quote as an anchoring promise:
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Personally, I was encouraged to find a language of hope and healing specifically for what can be a very difficult and painful season of spirituality. A season of faith shift is not necessarily a lifetime choice. It is often one developmental part of a longer passage. I am encouraged to find an open space for this form of deconstruction because I have spent a lot of time in Christian communities that hold tightly to certainty and conformity as core values. Where certainty and conformity are the rule, doubt and questions have no place. And that makes for a very lonely journey when you’re in a faith shift.
It is a relief to know others have walked through similar wilderness into rich new relationship with God and people. Finally I see that my own painfully transformed faith now holds a paradox. I still have a distilled core of beliefs about means to be a devoted Jesus Follower but those precious beliefs now reside inside a boatload full of mystery and diversity. And it’s so good to know there are a lot of us rowing alongside each other.
If you resonate with some of these introductory ideas of a faith shift, then I suggest some further reading (below). But, before I do that, to be clear, Kathy’s book isn’t the final answer. Ultimately, God holds your next steps. He knows what you need. And that may or may not be a book. Your soul care and spiritual practices matter greatly in the process of unraveling and rebuilding. First and foremost, it’s important to connect — with yourself, with God, and with others. Take the small steps you need to bravely engage with the most tender and sacred part of yourself.
One day at a time. It’ll be worth it.
Don’t miss the rest of the conversation.
Further Resources from Kathy
From the Blog:
Faith Shift: Finding your way forward when everything is coming apart, Kathy Escobar, Convergent Books, 2014
(Kelley J. Leigh and Kathy Escobar
@ The Processing Party)
* Symptoms of a Faith Shift, excerpt from “Faith Shift” by Kathy Escobar, pp. 3
- Seeking quote from The Bible, Jeremiah 29:13