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.” mitten cup

“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.”

~Kathy Escobar

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.

What’s Next?

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.

 

 

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Further Resources from Kathy

From the Blog:

8 Ways You Can Support a Friend or Family Member Who is in a Spiritual Shift

Rebuilding is Possible: A Little Hope for Deconstruction

Rebuilding after Deconstruction

The Book:

faith shift coverFaith Shift: Finding your way forward when everything is coming apart, Kathy Escobar, Convergent Books, 2014

 

 

 

 escobar process party

(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

journal pile

“Who can bear to look at the junk of our own minds

that comes out in writing practice?”

 

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down to the Bones

The Sorting …

See that knee-high mound of loosely organized journals and binders?

A couple months ago I decided to face the albatross that is all of my past writing. I hunted and gathered all available spiral bound personal journals, and folders of past teaching and speaking material. That pile is everything I ever saved, even stuff from high school.

With the encouragement of my writer’s group, I am harvesting pieces of past content and transferring it to a searchable system in my computer. And that looks and sounds very sequential and tidy doesn’t it?

Not so much. The process of reading through the words of one’s past is pretty trippy for a lot of reasons. Those journals hold pages full of soul searching and processing. Some of it fruitful hindsight; the rest, self-absorbed and misguided. Perhaps the most challenging issue has been the decision to salvage or throw. What to keep? What to toss?

These are the questions we all have to ask when reckoning with the past and moving into the future.

I have been traveling through words which describe wildly varying seasons of green growing bliss, budding new life, hibernation, and dry despair. Again and again I observe my hyper-vigilant and recursive attempts to right things all by myself. In equal measure, I see persistent evidence of God’s patient and tireless ability to repeat himself. Over and over, in hundreds of different ways, he says, “Come to me.”

In a way, I consider this piled up journal process as one way of doing just that. I am moving toward my self and God. I am no longer running with fear at my back.

I love how writer Natalie Goldberg describes reckoning with her own pile of writing. From her motivational book, “Writing Down to the Bones”:

“When I look at my old notebooks, I think I have been a bit self-indulgent and have given myself too much time to meander in my discursive thoughts. I could have cut through sooner. Yet it is good to know about our terrible selves, not to laud or criticize them, just acknowledge them. Then, out of this knowledge, we are better equipped to make a choice for beauty, kind consideration and clear truth. We make this choice with our feet firmly on the ground. We are not running wildly after beauty with fear at our backs.”

It may just look like a small mountain of paper on my floor.

But I am running wildly after beauty.

 

 

Want to peek inside the piles?

You can read one of my many journal pages here, “Of Dead Things Laid Down.”

 

 

scrivener logo

 The Geeky Details

In case you want to know my process with the journals … I am scanning my documents into SCRIVENER which is my writing program of choice.

I high recommend it. Couldn’t function without it. Can’t say enough about it.

 

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The following post came from the mountain of journals on the floor of my office. I chose to keep this picture and (edited) sketch, written in white pencil on black pages, because it captures something everybody needs to know about dead things.
lay it down image

Dead Things

I came upon this skull while running down a steep forested trail behind my house. No other remains anywhere nearby, the bone was carried and dropped on the barren rocky path where I found it. The lifeless white cranium of a coyote or a dog was dry and devoid of nutrients, no long of value to a predator.

I picked it up. Looked it over and decided to take it home to show my sons.

The gritty remains traveled in my left hand, then my right, then pulled up and hidden inside my floppy sweatshirt sleeve. Although awkward, the sleeve option worked best.

Halfway home, it became evident, it’s easier to run a long journey empty-handed. It is hard to run with a skull in your hand. I couldn’t find my stride while carrying the dead thing. It slowed me down —

distracted me from my path,

threw me off balance,

caused me to stumble,

made me vulnerable to injury.

Eventually, I set the skull down in the dirt. I took a picture and left it behind.

The skull reminded me of the one heaviest thing I was carrying in my soul. The thing I so desperately wanted to set down but couldn’t on my own.

There are things in life that we choose to carry. Burdens. Self-made prisons. Crippling shame. Anger. Hurt. Greed. Jealousy. Addiction. Infidelity. Dead things steal our focus and eventually drain our souls. The only way to be free of a dead thing is to release it.

Drop it. Lay it to rest.

But it’s rarely that simple, right?

The dead thing in my life refuses to relent without a fight. The heaviest skeletons of the soul can’t be buried and left behind just by sheer act of will. The release of a dead thing requires actual words spoken out loud to actual people, and ultimately, supernatural assistance. We all need help from outside ourselves.

I think true freedom resides here:

“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

~Jesus*

Today. Everyday. Choose the unforced rhythms of grace.

Recover your life.

Lay it down.

Trail Skull

“Seeing as I found a rock in my pocket,

Seeing as I found a glitch in my soul,

Make believe won’t hide the truth.

When judgment falls, it falls on you.

Bend a knee my friend.

 

Pride can break a man right down from iron.

Twist him ’round  ’round and tatter up his soul.

Handprint of God on the small of my back, my second chance.

I’ll bend a knee. I’ll bend a knee.

Lay it down. Say it’s all my fault. I believe.

 

Lay it down. It’s the hour of my healing.

I’ll bend a knee …

lay it down.”

 

J. Knapp, Lay it Down

 

What is your dead thing?
Is today the day to start or re-start a process of laying it down by pursuing those Jesus words?

*Jesus quoted from the Bible, in the book of Matthew 11:28-30, (The Message version).

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Felt Stories Saturday

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For this episode in my Mountain Town Church Trek series, I head back to my midwest church girl roots with a visit to South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. park ridge street sign

Time Travel

“What if I don’t find anybody I know?” I wondered to myself as I pulled open heavy door and entered the bar alone. My heart accelerated with a quick flash of insecurity. Loud music bounced wildly off the dark wood panels of a north side Chicago Irish pub.  A few nervous seconds passed in the room full of strangers. Then, the aging faces of former classmates and childhood friends started to clarify around me. Tension dissipated. Thirty years after graduation, we milled around tall bar tables, leaned in close and shouted catch-up questions to each other above the din. “What are you doing now? Where do you live? How many kids do you have?”

High school reunions are like a one-night event where people get a chance to glimpse into a carnival mirror for faces of one age.

Hello, classmates of 1984. Look around. This is what you look like at 48 years old.

This is who you are.

This is who you were.

This is who you are becoming.

Before I gathered courage to join the reunion, I took a drive around my hometown.

Park Ridge, Illinois sits on a northwest edge of Chicago, and is marked by grids of long mature tree-lined suburban streets and sidewalks. Over the years, newer larger homes slowly demolished and replaced many of the old neighborhood houses. But the recognizable landmarks remain.

I drove past the simple concrete street markers with long green name plates which marked my turns on to Vine, Crescent, Courtland or Prospect. I passed my girlfirend’s bedroom window, my boyfriend’s backyard, tidy back alleys, the red and white marquis of Pickwick Theater and the stadium lights on the football field at Maine South High School. The familiar smell of airplane exhaust from O’Hare Airport mixed with fresh cut lawn grass made me feel like I should be walking to school with a flute case under my arm.

On that park swing, I felt six. By that grocery store, I felt thirteen. Under that elm tree, I felt twenty. And around the corner, I found home.

The white steeple and tall colonial windows of South Park Church were extensions of my family home. A half mile apart, I inhabited both places almost equally. I used to know every inch, every hallway, closet, baptismal, bathroom and balcony. I colored pages in Sunday School rooms, memorized Pioneer Girl verses in Fellowship Hall, shouted with the high schoolers in the gym, and walked down the sanctuary aisle on my wedding day.

I stopped and parked the car next to church. The car engine went quiet. I sat and stared at the brick structure and felt the same sensation you feel seconds before the front door swings opens and the family dog comes running.

Except, nobody was home.

I stepped out of my car to inspect the site and experienced a collision of familiar and foreign. The church was undergoing massive renovation. The parking lot was a scrabbled surface. Plywood covered windows. Dirt and dumpsters marked the outline of massive upgrades to the tired old building. Yellow tape and temporary fences served as safety barriers to redirect pedestrians.

I stood before a work in progress. The white column institution I used to consider immutable and steadfast was under construction.

This is who you were.

This is who you are.

Reconstruction

As a pastor’s kid, I watched this church morph over the years. When we moved to the middle-class suburb in 1973, the choir wore white and green robes and WMBI‘s favorite son Glen Jorian was the choir director. Hard cover hymnals lined the backs of the pews and my Dad, Art Gay, spoke from a fancy pulpit which set in front of four matching white throne-like chairs. Times changed. A revival among high schoolers ignited in the late 1970’s, and filled the weekday sanctuary with hundreds and hundreds of teenagers who were spiritually on fire. Traditional organ and piano services gave way to the allowance of one service with drums and guitars. Media screens moved into the choir loft and a christian version of Second City drama slipped onto the stage. We waved goodbye to youth pastor Bill Hybels as the last vestiges of that youth revival flooded out of our doors and into movie-theaters in what would become the birth of mega-churches like WIllow Creek. In the 1980’s Ronald Reagan brought a new kind of evangelicalism to conservative churches. And in the 1990’s, my Dad moved out of the weekly pulpit and into international relief and work with Christian non-profits. I got married and moved away.

This is who you are becoming.

Standing by the curb, all the bustle of restoration made me feel optimistic, excited for what may be ahead for this community. At the same time, the ripped-up church construction felt like a brick and mortar picture of my own faith journey. The organ and pews are gone; the middle of the building demolished and rebuilt, the entry reconfigured. I’ve heard the church members have had to communicate clearly about which entrances to use during the project. There at the curb, I didn’t know which door to use to access the sanctuary that was once the living room of my youth.

Finding Home

For a while now, I’ve been among the scattered — the ones who used to be church people but currently claim no ‘church home’. I am currently untethered from any one particular established faith community. I travel around to various local churches in my quirky little mountain town, taking it all in. I am listening, writing, learning.

I am still a Jesus Follower. I am just in a messy process of trying to reconstruct what it means live out my faith in context of community. And somedays it feels like a jumble of familiar structures and demolition.

That said, somewhere deep in the middle of the rising scaffolds of my faith, God’s Spirit dwells. I believe this. I rely on this as truth. It doesn’t look exactly the same anymore. But the sanctuary still stands.

SPC Construction

I snapped a couple pictures of the church renovation to send my brother and sisters and headed over to meet up with all the other kids who were born in 1966. And I got to thinking.

No matter how the world changes. No matter where we wander. No matter if we lose bearing and can’t seem to find the front door. There is always an available way home to the heart of God. Somewhere at the center I hear it, feel it, know the way like the concrete markers on every corner of my childhood. In the depths of my soul I feel a boom and resonance across time, for me, for you.

“I AM.”

אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה

 

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Wondering about “I AM”?

“I AM”, or אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה in ancient Hebrew, is a sacred and timeless name for God as found in the Bible, Exodus 3:14 where YAWEH introduces himself to Moses. It is also a name Jesus uses to describe himself as the one “who is, and was, and is to come.”

Always Final (2)

 

Of marriages and apple trees … an update.

My poor bear-snapped crab apple tree looks worse then it did last year (see image at end of post). Sometime in June when I wasn’t looking, a family of mule deer munched off the last green leafy vestiges of life in the lower branches. Many times this summer I nearly yanked the forlorn stick-of-a-tree out of the ground. But, I absolutely know there is healthy life in the root system. So, against my better landscaping judgement, I decided to keep it. Again. Until next spring. 

Because even when things look futile and dead on the outside, usually, somewhere buried deep inside, there is hope for new life.

14764368474_1c07f8b09f_z

“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces,

I would still plant my apple tree.”

Martin Luther

Black Bear and a Broken Tree

I bought a half-dead tree several years ago during an End-of-Season-Clearance sale at the hardware store. I knew better.  But, it seemed a reasonable risk for the price.

I dumped the short twiggy weeping crab apple tree out of a sad little plastic bucket and transplanted it near the rain downspout, in a hidden sheltered corner of our house, safe from high-altitude wind and dry extremity. I gave it fussy attention, hoping for a piece of my Midwest roots to bloom in the pine forest of the Rocky Mountains.

Four years later, early morning coffee pot burbling quietly in the kitchen, I leaned over the sink to peer out the window and admire the first batch of tiny red apples on the thriving tree. My loud gasp startled the dog at her bowl. She froze, water dribbling off her chin, and looked at me with a cocked-head question. “What? What’s the matter?” Heavy paws ran behind my sock feet as we both dashed out the back door.

Fresh bear tracks in the soft garden pathway led to the tree.  During the night, my ten foot tree had been snapped in half by a hungry black bear.  Top limbs were sheared clean of apples and left in a wilted in a pile on the gravel.  I imagined the portly bear sitting on his bottom, legs outstretched with heavy padded feet, gorging extra calories for the winter ahead, cleaning off branches the way a panda strips bamboo. The lower half of the broken tree remained like a stunned middle-school girl in the first minutes after a very bad haircut.

Sometimes the things we plant don’t bloom as planned.

Over the years, my husband and I have had our own hard sheering and pruning conversations about things other than trees.  We have well-practiced angry dances about things like sex, intimacy, and weedy threats to our marriage.  Depending on the issue, usually one of us threatens with the huge loppers, while the other stands with wringing hands.

Now and then we all need a healthy pruning. Certain old growth needs to be cut back, tossed out so fresh, better life can grow — which is why I decided to keep the bad-hair-day tree and help it recover.

A few weeks back, a small herd of deer, including some sweet spotted twin fawns took to wandering our forest neighborhood.  When nobody was watching, the deer munched up any available leafy garden growth.   Most of the new leaves on my barely-recovered crab apple disappeared. A lone twig still standing, the tree was forlorn and naked like a plucked chicken perched on a barnyard fence.

How long to the point of no return?

My husband and I have been in similar naked plucked-chicken stages of our marriage, barely surviving, pruned down to the last vestiges of all that we believed.  We have laid in bed next to each other, together but lonely, insecure and apart, hearts left for dead. Over the course of many autumns, we have walked together through intimate crisis into healing. In the process, I’ve come to believe that only God can prune and tend the unseen places of our hearts in unexpected ways; ways that bring beauty beyond recognition. It’s a seasonal process which looks like my over-pruned crab, and includes feelings of point-of-no-return ugliness and death.  But, in my limited experience, I can say this with confidence:

If Jesus is at the center of the tending, new life branches out, and Spirit-breathed fruit grows. It does.

Certain autumn nights, when my bedroom window is open and the breeze is just right I look up at the stars and wonder if the bears are hibernating yet. I slide my heat-seeking body under my husband’s heavy sleeping arm and remember when I used to be afraid of him, of being intimate, of the much needed pruning in our marriage.  I feel his breath on my face and feel thankful for the pain that came before, and all the stolen fruit and broken days that preceded this blooming season.

And that’s why the apple tree will stay.  Even if I knew that bears would come, and limbs would break, and tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.

Related Posts about Marriage and Faith:

How Busy Almost Wrecked My Marriage

A Good Year for Daisies

My Brutiful Truth

What do you think? Should I replace it? Leave a comment and let me know.

Apple Tree Then - Now (1)

 

You can also find this post featured on the online magazine — ‘The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life and God’.  (linked here)

 

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Where the choice to truly live in the present requires faith and courage.

Hello, again. Whoosh. September sure came and went like the wind. I am jumping back in here with you on the blog with a back-seat sketch from one of my many road trips this past month. Welcome to October!

rear view mirror

 

Too Brief to Measure

The cry will be a relief. Even so, I dread it like a natural catastrophe.

I sit in the back seat of our family truckster, knees propped against the drivers seat because my legs are the shortest in the family. We are on our way to drop off my third son for his first year of college. My husband drives the long western highway. Two of the remaining four brothers sit shotgun and back seat. They lean in to chat with their Dad. After this trip, only one son will live with us at home.

Mountains in the distance on the right, flat plains to the left, and above us sprawls a clear blue morning sky streaked with wispy clouds. Long yellow lane-lines ride off ahead of us to a flat point where the sky meets the asphalt.

We speed toward the horizon.

The constant nag of tears stored behind my eyes feels like the flutter of closed curtains just minutes before a disastrous wind blows through the open window and scatters all the papers off the desk.

It’s coming. A sad surge builds like a storm somewhere in my lungs, or my trachea, or maybe my sternum. I visualize my arms around my son’s ribs in the inevitable goodbye, and a rush of breath detours the regular mouth exit and runs amuck in my skull then pounds on the backs of my eyeballs.

Road markers zip past my window like low-flying self-propelled objects.

I glance at the rear view mirror and remember a dark orange sunset on a different vacation. Back when my days were full of diapers, and children’s books — back when my legs were longer than theirs — I sat shotgun next to my husband. On that journey, we traveled east. The sun set behind us. I glanced into the rear view mirror to check on the brothers; two in car seats, two in seat belts, all with heads that barely reached the head rests and windows. They were all quiet, staring out the window or sleeping. Intense hot oranges of sunset morphed into cool blues and painted my sons with a wash of twilight.

I stared at all four faces framed perfectly inside that one small mirror and I had a moment of time/space confusion. In that split second, a sixteen year old version of myself woke up to the sight of those boys and started a present-tense reckoning.

“How did I get here? How are these my children? I am married and have children?! When did this all happen?”

In that odd Rip Van Winkle moment I took it all in, dumbstruck, like one big utterly new and joyous surprise. “THIS is my life?!”

Back in my space behind the driver’s seat, I look in the present day rearview mirror and notice smile lines worn and grooved in my middle-aged face. I drench in the new morning sky as it disappears in our wake, and sigh with the goodness of so many fleeting moments. “This is my life.”

Freeway lines speed out from under the car and race in the opposite direction like time’s meter dashing under our tires and away in the distance. My sons’ chatty voices fill the car. My eyes begin to sting like a burn in need of dousing. The extinguishing flood quietly gathers. I know the grieving cry will arrive eventually because sad tears travel the same road as joy.

We ride in the present, between what was and what is to come, in the middle, where the swift rushing weight of bitter sweetness is almost too beautiful to bear. And this is the stuff of faith and courage, to choose to live and fully feel it all.

Today.

Embrace the coming flood and soak in the breath-taking rise and fall of days.

Because, life is but a sigh too brief to measure.

Similar Posts:

A Bucket Full of Ocean

Love is Not a Fight

A Good Year for Daisiess

 

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My Soul Finds Rest

My Mountain Town Church Trek | The Praying Church, Part 3.

fractal dove flight

 

The Interview

I didn’t expect the answers I got.

Before heading on to the next faith community on my local expedition, I sat down with one of the pastors for the praying church. We sat in the coffee shop section of the prayer facility and I recorded the following excerpted interview questions. The tall affable pastor has a loud laugh and easy smile. He is also a worship leader, musician and associate senior leader. I enjoyed chatting with Garrett and was both genuinely inspired and surprised by some of his answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Questions

During one of the Sunday services I attended, the dynamic female pastor at the praying church inadvertently answered my first question. During her sermon, she described one defining trait of her faith community this way: “That we know God. We expect encounters, prophetic words. We are carrying something profound, needed, not found everywhere.”

I continued this line of thought with Garrett …

Why is [the praying church] necessary when there are so many other churches in town?

The reason God has called us into existence … We are a church about encountering God, finding our purpose and destiny in him, and honestly, helping people become whole.

I’ve helped plant or lead or grow 3 different churches [ in general, most ] were more about agenda. I personally felt like there was the sense of putting God in a box. “This is how He looks, this is how He works, this is what He expects … ” We don’t always know that.

Yes, we are based on Bible as the Word of God. We try to do everything we can to live according to the Word of God. However the rules or the regulations, or what we would call ‘religion’, have gotten so steeped into some churches that people come and they feel like they have to be molded into who the church is rather than having the church take who they are and kind of build them up and breathe life into them, and try to build them into who God wants them to be. One of the things we’ve been called to is not to be a traditional church. We have a Sunday expression but our goal is to be a place of prophetic or encouraging prayer/ speaking over people’s lives — for people to see how God sees them.

What people or denominations would you describe as having a similar DNA to your faith community?

Bill Johnson, (the Senior Leader for Bethel Church in Redding CA), says that God is always a good mood. He’s not an angry God up in heaven that’s waiting to zap you because you didn’t do what He said. That’s a perspective we also share. There’s a writer named Graham Cooke who would also be in the same ball park as what we believe. But most of the places we are really close to or pull on aren’t really affiliated with a denomination.

If you have to use church language: We’d be charismatic. That term is more about the character of a person and their ability to be social … but the church uses that to describe people who are flowing in the current gifts of the Bible. We are genuine people learning and growing and communing with God. Most people I know want to know that God actually does something. Rather than sit in the pew of a church and hear a message and leave and not ever experience any thing that God is doing. What better evidence than to experience the five fold gifting of God?  I don’t think any of those things have gone away. Some people might argue that they have. We see the miraculous things. I’ve seen too many people get healed when people pray for them. Or I’ve seen someone prophesy over a person and they begin to weep because that person is, “reading their mail.” That’s what I mean as far as charismatic.

I feel like people who aren’t Christians are almost able to appreciate that more than people who have been Christians and have been in Christian settings and they’ve developed biases about that.

We aren’t discounting what others are doing. God put it all together. We try to make room for every conversation that’s out there.

What About Homosexuality and the Church?

We’ve prayed God would bring gay people to our church.

I don’t think homosexuals are going to hell … I don’t see anything recorded in the Bible where Jesus speaks directly to someone with that specific issue. But I can tell you when he knelt down and wrote in the dirt next to the woman who had committed adultery * — which back in that culture was seen in the same light as what conservative Christians would see a gay person or homosexual — Jesus chose not to condemn her. In other words, the religious leaders that were there wanted to condemn her, he told them “Those without sin should cast the first stone.” And they were silenced because they knew they had sin inside of them. We all do. And maybe that sounds like I’m calling gays sinful or something like that. But that’s not my point. What I am trying to say, is Jesus instantly forgave whatever was going on inside of her. He said, “go and sin no more” basically, don’t continue to do things that are harmful to you, or go against Gods best.

All I know is God so loved the world and he gave his son and I feel like God wants everybody to be saved. He’s not up there wanting anyone to perish. His heart is that everyone would be, quote, “saved” if you will. The reason he sent his son was so that the world would be saved. And that’s everybody.”

[ I read that statement back to him. He pauses and says … ]

There’s so much you could read between the lines in there and make that mean whatever you want it to mean. Our goal is to love. The church appears in general to the world as a place that judges and condemns. But we are trying to be what we perceive to be more like Jesus, and say:

We’ve come to love you right where you are. We are not going to judge you, make you change the way your dress or ask to change you. If at some point you choose to do that, that’s between you and God. That would be your choice.”

[A Quick Aside]

In response to the above answers, right now my more conservative reader friends are shaking your heads about “not asking gay people to change” — or the loose use of the word “saved” without inclusion of some variation of the words “believe in Jesus” in the same sentence — or the even looser description of who is or isn’t going to hell.

Stay with me.

The Take-Away

At some point in my highly religious protestant life, I got this crazy idea that a doctrinally perfect church was possible. I adopted the idea that any Biblical or theological “inaccuracy” nullifies the credibility of a speaker or even a community. Either a person or group is right, or wrong. Good or Bad. In or Out. Binary. Dualistic. Black and white.

I like to think I’m in recovery from that way of seeing the world. But admittedly, there were certain details that that didn’t settle well with me at the praying church. Like intermittent hints and whiffs of prosperity gospel, and the fact that the whole congregation was at one point collectively reading a book by a Korean pastor with arguably one of the largest churches in the world, and was recently indicted for embezzling millions of dollars from church funds. And, I wouldn’t be able to 100% get behind a place that hosts a Creation Science Academy for children. I am conflicted about those things. And this all begs the same question: Are these isolated points of preference or principle reason to reject the whole?

My formerly fearful and hyper-religious self would say yes. But here’s the deal.

The further along I travel, the more I find God’s perfect love and truth embedded in imperfection.

This idea continues to repeat, place to place. There is no such thing as a perfectly “correct” person or group of people. And that feels like the middle of the ‘good news’ Christians preach. The whole point of the ‘gospel’ is that God comes near, and even pours himself inside imperfect containers. We are faulty jars poured full of powerful love, mercy, justice, grace we could never conjure up on our own. As a result, I’m starting to think of the ‘church’ as the Spirit of God embedded in a whole fleet of curiously flawed vessels.

Sure, the praying church is flawed like every other ship in the fleet. Even so, I am inspired by Garrett’s words about seeing ourselves the way God sees us. And I love the praying church’s posture of expectancy for God to move outside our preconceived boxes. Like canaries in a coal mine, I think this sensitivity makes them open to invisible things of God that the rest of us boxy people might miss.

Since moving on to the next next local community in this project, I honestly miss worship at the praying church. Some Sundays when I am scheduled to visit and take notes at a different sanctuary, I find myself longing for a quiet Lazy-boy rocker in the back row of this openly loving and supernatural little mountain church. I agree with the short-but-mighty-and- thundering preacher woman when she says that her people are “carrying something profound, needed, not found everywhere.”

And I carry that with me.

Related Posts:
Unexpected Encounters at the Praying Church
Like Fire and Water
Going Local: My Mountain Church Trek

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The story of Jesus writing in the sand can be found in the Bible, John 8:1-11.

Fractalius Flying Dove image by Bahman Farzad

Where I am recovering from leaving a son at college, so I provide you with a mindless video of my kitten attacking a lampshade. 

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College Drop-Off

“How did it get so late so soon?”

This week I road-tripped with my husband and the two youngest of the four brothers. We drove a long and winding western highway toward my son’s school in New Mexico. Mountains in the distance on the right, flat plains to the left; above, a clear blue big sky bent over the horizon and pointed to the future. The back of the car smelled like clean laundry and was packed roomy and loose, not even close to capacity, with things like a guitar, amp, clothes, a couple of hand made boxes, and a few miscellaneous bags.

He traveled light. My heart was heavy. And all was as it should be.

My third son moved into college this week. I just got home today, and am still kind of in recovery. No matter that it’s the third time doing this drill, leaving a child at college off for the first week of the first year is pretty rough on a mom’s heart.

Deep breaths.

Needless to say, blog writing fell to the wayside this week. No doubt you’ll be reading about the college drop-off at some point. [Read it HERE] In the meantime, I’m just going to share a little mental intermission of sorts. Because, some days, after a good hard cry, it’s nice to stare at something mindless.

 

Therefore, a Short Mental Intermission

The following short video introduces you to our new kitten Hobbes.  Hobbes is the replacement for our beloved old mountain Cat — the one who was eaten a few months ago. Not to be too graphic, but Dog did continue to find remnants of Cat here and there for weeks and months after. Leg. Skull. Ribs. Grisly. Awful. Really. Hopefully we are done with the gruesome remnants. And now, we are happy to a have small bundle of energy instead. My daughter-in-law, helped me pick him out at the Humane Society several weeks ago. Since then, Hobbes has evolved from predictably adorable baby kitten to occasional small monster. And usually it is funny, unless he inflicts pain.

Meet Hobbes. Here, find one and half minutes of purely mindless kitten behavior. Think of it like staring at an aquarium, except it’s a tiny cat and a lampshade instead of fish and rocks.

Thanks for riding along with me.

~KjL

 

Related Posts on Kids Leaving Home:

Rearview Mirrors

Writing on the Wall

Benediction and Flight

Permanent Marks

Guitar Picks

 

Any thoughts on hard goodbyes? Leave a comment. I am always glad to hear from you!

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The Praying Church | Part 2

Where I continue my Mountain Church Trek and open up about my experience with listening and healing prayer — and we talk about the general (and controversial) differences between charismatic and conservative protestant churches.   Praying Church part 2

Rules of Engagement

Red light, stop. Green light, go. Unless you have a kid with a driver’s permit, on a good day in a small town you can reasonably expect to know how all cars will respond at a stoplight. RIght? Rules of behavior create a sense of ease and predictability so that daily life is more ordered, easier to manage. In the same way, the local churches in my little mountain town operate with set principles of Sunday behavior. “When you come here, this is what you can expect on a Sunday.”   It’s pretty much the same drill everywhere. The general line-up includes some variation of:

  • Music,
  • then prayer,
  • then greeting time,
  • then more music,
  • then a sermon,
  • then prayer
  • then maybe communion or another song or announcements,
  • then some form of benediction or dismissal.

That’s basically the way it goes —  like a box each church fills, in their own way. Ordered. Known. Predictable.

Less so at the praying church. From a Lazy-Boy recliner near the back row, I rocked through Sunday worship times that ran more like a fluid process rather than a well-paved sequential event. The service did have a generally similar flow each week. But, like I’ve said, it felt a bit like an uncharted amusement park ride sometimes. Every now and then during worship, someone in the back randomly trumpeted a startling bellow from a primitive ram’s horn. The sermons/teachings rollicked and shouted at times more like the passionate half-time pep talk of a football coach than a preacher’s academic exegesis. Attendees routinely responded with intermittent amens and jitterings of unknown languages. And, the service rarely ended exactly on time on any given Sunday. (Click click goes the ride.) True. But there were also consistently great sets of music, stories of healing, prophetic visions, or directive prayer. And always between each element there was much open time to simply be, to listen, to respond to God. In my times at the praying church I came to appreciate an expectant attitude that God’s Spirit will show up in unexpected ways, every week.

Necessary Breathing Space

Over the last couple of years, I have slowly gained a greater love for the unknowable God possibilities that are embedded in quiet open space and things I can’t control.

My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this month. During the last decade of our life together, Steve and I walked a path of hidden hurt that nearly meant the death of our marriage. Long and short, our biggest moments of recovery and healing came in places of counseling and raw community. Those places included an unpredictably wild adventure in healing prayer. In that season, I learned what it means to actually LISTEN for and hear from God’s Spirit. And I’ll talk more in depth about that life-changing process at some point. For now I’ll just say that I used to believe “prayer” meant talking to or at God. Which in one sense it is. But turns out, prayer can be transactional and relational.

There are ways to center and quiet in order to listen and receive direction or healing through prayer.  It can be scary or vulnerable to settle into a space without agenda, waiting to encounter God. Sometimes it’s like waiting at an intersection where the stop lights are blinking yellow and nobody knows who should go next. Relational prayer requires faith and courage — rest and openness. Listening and responding to God requires time, quiet, and a willingness to feel a little out of control. It means NOT riding in the driver’s seat with a programmed set of rules and expectations.

In my experience, authentic inner transformation does not breathe and grow when we are rushing fast and loud, filling every minute, driving hard. Intimate truth from God rarely arrives inside our tidy well-scheduled agendas. Soul-healing prayer requires time, a receiving posture, and available space in hearts, souls, sanctuaries … and living rooms.

For the record, I am not a well-disciplined praying saint or a monk. I still have a lot to learn. The choice to stop and pray when prompted often feels like I’m a salmon swimming upstream. And I don’t always choose it when needed. But I have come to deeply crave that way of being. Which is why the praying church felt fresh and good in so many ways. But, it hasn’t always been this way.

Red Light, Green Light

I was literally born into a life of systematic and well-ordered evangelical protestantism. Churches with tight services jam-packed well-timed flow of behavior are like my native language. I can enter those types of churches and operate with the ease of a popular high school senior in the lunch line. For better or worse, I know those rules and feel comfortable, competent in those structures.

My church homes over the years have been ‘contemporary’ protestant church services. Typically, the sanctuaries are set up like a theater where spectators face a screen and stage and are expected to worship, listen, and spectate. In the most general sense, there are very few surprises in the observational church service. As a result, any time the rules change, allotted time is violated, or unexpected response is requested, most conservative theater-goers tend to become at best unnerved or worst, offended. In my ‘native’ church-land, there is order and program. In my new landscape, it’s different.

Every church chooses their own rules of the road. And most of those rules come from the way scripture is interpreted. In the Bible there is an important list of gifts or characteristics that come with being a Christian inside the church organism. The quote, from the Apostle Paul goes this way:

“Now you are Christ’s body and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.”

(The Bible, 1 Corinthians 12:27-28, emphasis mine.)

Church denominations and individuals interpret this list differently. Very generally speaking, a charismatic church will usually accept all of these gifts as relevant and encourage each to be fully expressed. The conservative protestant churches of my past typically minimize miracles, healing, and speaking in tongues. Well-defined roles of teaching, administration and helps are emphasized. Wild and miraculous (less controllable) gifts are diminished. As a result, on a Sunday at a conservative church there are no interruptions, spoken prophetic words, visions or expectation of full-on healing. You could say this way of Sunday expression is heavy on education and mostly devoid of the supernatural.

In contrast, in my times at the praying church (and others like it) I observed some aspect of all of those gifts, and came to understand a more untucked and un-timed and uninhibited version of church service; one that expects miracles, healing, new belief, and the like.

In a nutshell comparison, I see this (again, speaking very broadly) …

Traditional/corporate American protestant churches operate on a tight time frame and generally preach or teach around topics which say:

“This is what you need to know in order to understand about God biblically and correctly.”

 

Spirit-led charismatic churches run a little more loosely and say:

“This is what you need to know in order to experience God fully and fruitfully.”

After hanging around with the charismatics, I am reminded how valuable it is to step into a slower space of quiet, open to the interruption of God’s Spirit. I enjoyed their willingness to embrace the wilder side of the Creator, Spirit, Son. They are a fresh breath of wind and fire compared to the cool glasses full of conservative water down the road.

I believe both kinds of faith communities (equally flawed) are necessary in their own way. Even though both have intrinsic value, I just don’t think I would have found deep healing in my soul and in my marriage, in my native conservative churches. For some reason, it was necessary for me to travel to what has felt like foreign land to find healing.

Back to the Question

All of that brings me back to my big ticket question in this series … Here in my one small town, there are a whole bunch of “Jesus” churches following their own rules of the road without acknowledging each other in the journey.

Why is it better to create all sorts of factions and buildings around our differences?

Seems to me as I’m trekking around from place to place, maybe we have valuable things to share with each other as we travel along.

So why don’t we?

__________________________

 

What about you?

Anything strike you personally in this post?

What do you think about the idea of having space to encounter God and find healing?

Let me know. I am listening!
 

Similar Posts:

One Word

To Listen

Listening and Hearing

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Sources/Further Reading on the Topic:

Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, Richard Rohr, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009

A Guide for Listening and Healing Prayer: Meeting God in the Broken Places, Rusty Rustenbach, NavPress, 2011

Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, Dallas Willard, IVP Books, 2012

Power Healing, John Wimber, (forward by Richard Foster), Harper SanFrancisco, 2009

Where I sigh because Jen Hatmaker gave words to the most vexing part in my mountain church trek. Find me linked up over at Jen’s blog with a team of writers for this review of her book,“Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity.”
sleeping giant framed

Comfortable Christianity 

I have long suspected that my brand of ‘church’ is about to crumble to the foundations. This angst-y feeling runs like a hot wire up and down the spine of what I currently know as American Christianity.

My angst is fueled by a nagging sense that wealthy conservative protestant church (as I’ve known and/or created it) is in hibernation like a sleeping giant. I’ve written about the tension here. But, it’s still hard to find a quick way to explain. My best efforts include words focus like bigger buildings, better coffee, slick in-house marketing programs and parking lots chock full of SUV’s. Or, take this indicting Jesus quote:

“I’ll say it it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”

These are harsh words for rich people, for sure. But, regularly in my North American evangelical experience this quote is preached and muted, tempered — traded for all the things a sleeping giant needs; things like sooth-saying words, permission to have plenty of food, comfortable shelter, and Do Not Disturb signs on the door.

Jesus has a point about wealth. Most Sundays, we sleep through it.

 

Hatmaker interrupted rich americans

 

Or maybe, to be fair, I should say “I’.  I either sleep or get hyper-vigilant. I ride a wild pendulum that swings from obsession to utter neglect. There is no in between for me with those Jesus words. I don’t know what to practically do about them. Some days I get all hot and bothered and declare to my husband that we are selling EVERYTHING in the garage. He rarely takes this well as most of HIS stuff is in the garage. The rest of the time, I turn it all off and place my focus elsewhere. But that’s becoming increasingly more difficult.

Sleeping Giants

For a while now, I have felt the increasing tension of my wealth and comfort like a relentless alarm clock beeping through the fog of a dream. Most mornings I feed my dog and cat and head outside, warm beverage in hand. I stroll my yard surrounded by a Colorado fortress of mountain ranges, isolated from all danger and poverty, and I wonder if the human version of Jesus would choose to live here. Or, if he would leave in order to be with the people who are aware they really desperately ‘need’ him.

These days, I am Rip Van Winkle in a waking stretch. I am starting to understand what I missed in my dozy self-consumed church years. I feel the increasing chasm of injustice and disproportionate wealth in the world. I am the sleeping giant trying to force my heavy eye lids open, to throw back the warm covers and dare to wake to poverty and violence and a kingdom of orphans and widows. And it feels like a colossal fight with gravity. This is one part of the angst, the unrest I feel about myself, about church, about what it means to be a Jesus Follower.

I am not alone. Others are speaking these same ideas and longings.

Awakenings

Author and speaker Jen Hatmaker grew up in church a a pastor’s kid, went to a Baptist college, married a pastor and served full-time in ministry for a dozen years before her personal awakening. She articulates her pre-awakened state this way:

“I am still stunned by my capacity to spin Scripture, see what I wanted, ignore what I didn’t and use the Word to defend my life rather than define it … Looking backward, I can better identify the tension that lurked at the edges, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was … something off for me. We spent an unhealthy amount of time dreaming about our next house, our next financial increase, our next level of living. We were the opposite of counterculture. We were a mirror image of culture, just a churched-up version.”

I just read Jen’s book, Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks your Comfortable Christianity, and found myself shaken in a good way. Jen Hatmaker is loud. She admits openly that she has no filter and over-shares personal things about her life.  If you’re the DIY type, you may want to watch Jen and her husband Brandon on their new HGTV series “My Big Family Renovation“. The show follows the Hatmakers and their 5 children as they tackle the complete and chaotic renovation of a 100-year-old farm house in Texas. And all of that housey-ness may seem a bit contradictory to the premise of wealthy Christians seeking a simpler and more radical path. A little perplexing. Yes. But here’s the thing …

I saw Jen speak at the Allume blogger conference last year and was drawn in by her infectious laugh and pure-form authentically raw love for Jesus. For better or worse, Jen is willing to lay her loud life bare for the rest of us. Take it or leave it. She says things in ways more diplomatic people wouldn’t. She is like your boisterous neighbor that makes people laugh and roll their eyes — or your brother’s extremely loud and lovable ex-girlfriend that everybody remembers and smiles about.

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A few years ago, Jen and her husband set out to plant a church and found themselves living a radically renovated life of service to “the poor, the least, the forgotten.” Interrupted is their story of rediscovering what faith community means. Her language gives word to my own church angst. Her story creates a missional path through as she answers the question:

If the gospel is good news at all, then it’s not just an idea to consider, a time slot on a Sunday, or a task assigned to a select few — it’s a life to live. And it’s bigger than all of us.


As I trek around my mountain town, wandering in and out of faith communities
, I am searching. I hope to catch glimpses of interruption and spiritual awakening. I long for bracing storm clouds to blow in and douse us all with tidal waves of holy water that make us gasp and shudder, eyes wide open. Jen has her own way of speaking this same yearning, in a voice that is all her own. Again, take it or leave it. But I think her book is like an ice-bucket dousing … an inspiring jolt to move beyond comfortable into something that is bigger than all of us.

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Related Posts from Kelley

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Going Local: My Mountain Town Church Trek

How “Busy” Nearly Wrecked my Marriage

Losing My Religion

 

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Don’t miss the small town adventure … I’ve spent my entire life in the stackable chairs of conservative evangelical churches. I’m starting over with ‘church’ by trekking around and exploring the faith communities in my quirky little mountain town. It’s a wild ride. Jump in!

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Hatmaker_Jennifer_Author_photoJen Hatmaker is the author of 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. She speaks at conferences around the country. Jen resides in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Brandon, and their five children.

 

 

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Sleeping Giant Image: Lost Gardens of Heligan, UK, photographer unknown.