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

fractal dove flight

 

The Interview

I didn’t expect the answers I got. Turns out, the praying church doesn’t believe gays are going to hell for being gay. And they’re pretty clear about why they exist even though there are so many other churches in town.
 
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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Got Questions? Go ahead and leave a comment or contact me here.     
 
 
 
 
 
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. 

suess quote frame

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 here at some point. 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:

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.

Hatmaker interrupted_page-136

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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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.

 

Where I visit a charismatic church that expects to encounter God at any moment — and it feels a bit like riding a roller coaster. 

 

Big Dipper roller coaster

 

Buckled In

Walking in and sitting down in a new church feels a bit like buckling in for a roller coaster ride. You know what I mean. That feeling where you have no sense of the path ahead and the roller coaster cars are creeping upward toward an inevitable crest and plummet into the unknown. Click … click … click … here we go.

At the second church on my trek, I arrive a few minutes early and find my place toward the back, in a row of old Lazy-boy rocking chairs. Even though I am am generally up for whatever a Sunday brings, I still feel a little bit like an uninformed passenger, leaning back into gravity as the track clicks forward. There are no worship programs handed out at this church. No instructions on the wall. In their artistic and informal sanctuary space, these people expect to encounter God, no obvious scheduled agenda or pre-service explanations given.

The Church

The praying church resides in a historic building across from the city park on the same street where the Farmer’s Market sets up each Friday. Built in 1890, the simple one room church building was the longtime site of the funeral church I attended last week. In the 1990′s, that congregation outgrew the building and moved across town. Eventually the praying church moved in. I know of three other churches in town that exchanged property or moved into each other’s buildings. In a way, churches in this county resemble hermit crabs who switch shells as they grow.

The renovated building is now a prayer center open Sundays for a worship service, and every day of the week from 10 am to 10 pm for anyone to stop in and pray. Inside, your grandmother’s gold print 1970’s couches and leather chairs offer seating in a coffee shop section. Most weeknights, ‘soaking worship’ times are set aside in the sanctuary “Living Room” where live acoustic music happens, or recorded music runs. The stated long-term goal of the praying church is to eventually have the prayer facility open to the public 24-7. As one of the pastors explained,

“People need to have a place to go where they can just BE with God … where they don’t have to talk to a pastor or behave a certain way. Most churches are open on Sunday and have office hours, but don’t provide a place to just hang.”

The praying church encourages all forms of spiritual gifts (including prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing) in order to edify people and encounter God. Ministries have names like “Dream Interpretation” and “Prophetic Ministry”. Visiting speakers often come from Bethel Church, the charismatic mega-church and equipping facility in Redding, CA. Oft-quoted are spiritual leaders like Graham Cooke, or Bill Johnson. The praying church expects to hear specifically and personally from God on a regular basis, intentionally pursues joy, claims God’s promises, and believes in the miraculous healing work of Jesus Christ. Sunday worship is an eclectic mix anywhere from casual street clothes to full-on Easter dressy. They speak boldly against Satan, laugh often, and say AMEN more in one Sunday than I’ve heard in a lifetime.

Side Note: Right now, my more ardent and conservative protestant reader-friends are tsk-ing the idea of dream interpretation and Googling the sources I just named to find any way the praying church might be incorrectly interpreting Christianity. I’ll be here when you get back.

I sometimes use the praying church’s coffee shop couches during the week to quiet my brain, and pray, or write. This is a familiar dwelling spot, even though this is my first time visiting on a Sunday.

The Music Begins

I calmly situate my notebook and cross my legs pretzel style and rock in the creaky beige Lazy-Boy. 50-75 miscellaneous chairs and various bean bag or pillow seating are lined up in an L shape around a small stage. The praying church people arrive comfortably late, greet each other, mill around, smile, hug each other like family. Several minutes after the hour, the music starts and I am immediately surprised and engaged. The sound system is state of the art; even with my hearing impairment, I hear details in words and notes. The worship leader and band are extremely talented, relaxed, easy like seasoned musicians.

This Living Room service is full of open and reflective response time for communion, for thought, for music, and for conversational teaching at the end of the gathering. During worship, congregants are invited to get up and take communion at a small makeshift table up front, whenever we feel ‘led.’ The worship leader fills extended vamp sections with impromptu melodies of prophetic prayer and petitions. Some people stand. Some sit. A line of willing partakers file up front and take a piece of bread and a sip of grape juice. The service is not timed down to the minute. Come what may.

I observe the unfolding events from my comfortable chair. I have a plan to enter each of these unfamiliar little mountain sanctuaries with a calm exterior. I maintain a certain outer shell, for objectivity’s sake, of course. This is a writing project after all.

But, this church worries me a little bit. They leave so much open Spirit-filled space. Anything could happen.

And the roller coaster goes, “Click … click … ”

Sobbing Prompts

Somewhere at the center, I know I am vulnerably soft like the yellowy yolk of an egg. In churches with tightly scheduled, down to the minute this-then-this-then-this worship services, I expect to be able to sit and participate in a manageable way. But in places that leave plenty of room for response, I have kind of an issue.

Before I explain, you need to understand. I have lived most of my life in church cultures that believe inner emotions are generally suspect and intellect should always be trusted as bedrock container for faith. The Problem: I have something Spirit driven that doesn’t fit in a container. Now and then, certain sacred things crack through my shell and cause my contents to emotionally spill all over the place. The usual suspects are great music and unexpected stories of mercy or redemption. These things touch my core and bring tears in a manageable way. However, on the rarest occasions I am rendered helpless.

Sometimes certain truth or Jesus words cause an inner tremor deep in my chest like the approach of distant thunder. A cry begins to pound hot behind my eyes and it feels like my soft spiritual underbelly is exposed. In those moments I typically end up weeping with an odd weighty joy that is followed by some moment of clarity like a shooting star or ignited flame.

In those cracked-open instances, I have come to believe that God’s Spirit is alive at my soul’s most malleable center, mega-phone in hand, with Truth not just for me but for all of us — truth that God wants to to speak and be heard. And it gets loud but never audible; big, but small enough to doubt. And those messy moments of revelation always require a thread of faith to speak out loud because they are usually gone in an instant.

For lack of better words, I call the incidences Sobbing Prompts because they precede some kind of clarity. Maybe other religious language would name them as prophecies or visions. In any case, to be clear, they don’t happen very often. And who knows, maybe they’ll never happen again. I can’t know because I can’t conjure them up. But they’ve happened enough to be recognizable.

Maybe that sounds crazy and you want to unsubscribe or un-follow right this instant. So be it. It’s ok.

Remember, I’ve spent most of my church time in pews and matching stackable chairs. I get it. For the most part, my past experience in conservative evangelical churches hasn’t given a lot of room to explore or affirm my weird sobbing visions. But I am starting to embrace them as a gift to share, rather than a burden to be hidden or tolerated.

As I visit these churches, part of me wants to altogether avoid the vulnerability of an all-out Sobbing Prompt among people I don’t really know. But another piece longs to be touched, cracked open, unleashed.

On this mountain church trek, I hold the two in tension and try to maintain a general posture of openhandedness — with a trust for where God may be leading, without concern about outcomes.

Puppies and Dancers

As the music continues, a group of 3 or 4 little girls in dresses move up to an empty space in front of the communion table and spontaneously begin to dance to the worship music in a small cluster. Unplanned. Free. One smiley girl notices a sad boy in the front row and offers him a communion cracker as solace. The girls twirl and sway and step and sit down, then resume and repeat. A little girl walks up the row holding a puppy the size of a tea cup, and situates herself up front matter-of-factly for the duration. As the piano and guitar quiet down, the dance unexpectedly pares down to one dainty grade school girl in a print dress Laura Ingalls Wilder would wear to a picnic. My well-managed exterior begins to crack.

The music seamlessly shifts to a song with one repeating phrase and the graceful blonde girl swirls with her arms outstretched.

I am not alone …
You will go before me
You will never leave me
I am not alone.

The dancing girl swirls freely as the lyrics pour over the room. Pricked by the reality that I am again alone in a room full of people on this quest for my own sense of community, the manageable form of sweet tears start to swell.

When I walk through deep waters
I know that You will be with me
When I’m standing in the fire
I will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
I will not fear

I am not alone
You will go before me
You will never leave me. *

I cry quietly, touched by the personal goodness of the lyrics. And these familiar words come to mind:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior”

 

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”

A gracefully aged woman with coiffed hairspray hair and dressy Southern Baptist Sunday clothes has been pacing the aisles and floats around the room. She is extremely thin and moves the way tall reeds bend and flow with the wind. She holds a tambourine tied with a flow of colorful ribbons and peacefully dances in shuffles here and there with the music. I sense her close presence and notice she has moved to stand next to me. I think she is praying over my tears. But she doesn’t intrude. She is simply present. Near.

And I feel infinitely un-alone.

I rock in my chair, aware that I am soundly placed in sanctuary, grounded. I am centered like a dot in the middle of life’s timeline, between a young girl and an aged woman who dance in the presence of God. Their whirling presence testifies that God’s Spirit is always available, near, no matter the unknown waters, dangerous fires or shadowed valleys we face.

 

 

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Coming Up …

Up next from my praying church visit: An interview with the pastor, and a surprising response to your hard hitting question about homosexuality.

 

Get a Note from Me

Hey, if you enjoy this series, why not subscribe? When there is new content on the blog, you’ll get a weekly update PLUS a personal behind-the-scenes note to subscribers from me. It’s a Saturday thing. SIGN UP in the absolutely private and secure form, HERE. ~KjL

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 The Worship Song

I am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe.  No commercial infringement intended. All rights reserved.

 

“Familiar words” — Referenced from the Bible:

Deuteronomy 31:6

Hebrews 13:5

Isaiah 43:1-3

 

Roller coaster image from The Cleveland Blog

Where my mountain town church trek begins unexpectedly with a funeral for a child.

I didn’t anticipate starting this series to start at this church on this day. But, nobody plans for the death of a little girl. And at times like these, community must gather in the place of loss.

 

blue dandelionSnapshots

The sight of a hearse parked outside a church sends a shudder up my spine.

The funeral is set to begin at 10am on a dreary and rainy Thursday, in one of the oldest established churches in my quirky mountain town. The non-denominational church has the largest facility in town, and even though it provides a lot of programs and local charity assistance, in the last year or so the congregation has experienced a large exodus of members. Many families have left, scattered like a dandelion seeds in a hard wind.

Today, displaced people of faith find their way back to the familiar sanctuary and sit in solidarity as One church, One Body.  Today, together as community, we mourn.

Barely audible music whispers in a dark sanctuary packed full of people. We sit shoulder-to- shoulder, row upon row. On the screen at the front of the church, images appear and dissolve. Perfect soft white skin, big brown eyes, thin airy blonde hair, willowy little girls. Snapshots roll by of three small sisters, of a baby held by her mother, of the toddler playing dress-up. Happy images scroll on the screen above a room full of tearful observers. Until two weeks ago, the six year old little girl featured in the pictures was a vivacious container full of joy, always smiling or about to smile.

No parent wants to live this story. It was quick and unexpected. A few months ago, the three perfectly healthy little sisters, 10, 6, and 3 years old, arrived in SE Asia with their missionary parents. And then, in a breath-stealing series of events, the middle daughter contracted a common virus which on rare occasions attacks and destroys the heart. The parents spent long heart-wrenching hours in an Intensive Care Unit watching over their daughter. She was kept alive on full life support for four days before she quietly slipped away.  She entered the hospital on Wednesday and died on Sunday. The weary mom and dad packed up their family and flew back to the States to bury their daughter.

A final picture of the beaming little girl’s face remains static on the screen. She smiles down on us, frozen in time. The keyboard player begins to softly play “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus.” The precious smile on the large screen is the only light in the dark worship center. One word, written at the bottom of her picture, shouts into the room, “Celebrate!”

But no casket should be that small. 

Who would celebrate at a time like this?

 

The Collision of Sadness and Joy

I sit in the midst of a weeping community and resist the joyful mandate from the screen.

The beautiful tired mom has the same perfect skin, wispy hair and sweet face; a time-lapsed mirror image of her daughter. She sits in the front row and stares at the tiny casket.

I sit and steep in her loss and it boils over, expands from singular to collective.

I look from the image of the departed child’s smiling face on the screen to her crying mother below, and see a saturated single picture of a dying world gone desperately wrong.

The pastor steps forward to greet the gathered and speak words of hope. If the words and music were like paint brushes, the rest of the service created a mural of strange collisions between joy and sadness, grief and hope. We took in wide-angle perspectives of eternity, like broad sweeping colors full of the joy of unending life. We witnessed mighty strokes depicting the impotence of death which has lost its sting because of Jesus. We sang. Cried. And listened.

And somewhere at some point in that outpouring art of worship, there at the core of so much loss and despair, emerged the reason to celebrate.

Times like these, community helps me remember the and yet. As Jesus Followers, we do not celebrate because unexpected tragedies happen. We celebrate because of the and yet.

The world is dying and desperately broken, and yet …

And yet ... always available at the center of so much suffering, there is love, God’s love; comforting, brave, omnipotent, anchored, merciful, rescuing love. A love which overcomes death and enables us to sing side by side while standing next to small caskets.

 

Life Among The Scattered

The little girl’s parents wrote a letter which a pastor reads out loud to the room. It outlines their gratitude for so much prayer, support, and gifts like food, transportation, and love. Honestly, at that point, in that room full of supportive community for a grieving family, I felt vulnerable — secure in my relationship with God, but lost in the crowd. After today’s display of large church, I felt small in the universe. Why? Because I am The Scattered. I don’t have an established faith community. I am one of the many who used to be a part of a traditional church but currently find ourselves floating, orbiting on the outside without intimate ties to a larger body.

Yes, my husband and I experience a small, micro-version of church. But I feel untethered from what the funeral church people share. I have known it in the past. And I felt the longing and loss of it today.

After the service, my husband and I walked through the rain to our car with the same damp and nagging question. Where will we have our own funerals? If we experienced a death in the family right now, who would gather to console and remember? Where will we share our sacred moments of loss?

Neither of us have the answers to those questions yet.

But I do know this …

There is something about the grief and physical separation of death that painfully amplifies the sweetest parts of life, of relationship, of community. Times of trauma and loss sharpen love like a surgical needle and point us to the mending of what matters most.

Humans need each other. We belong to each other. We are built to be in community.

I believe this.

 

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Coming Up …

I enter a worship space that feels a bit like strapping in for a roller coaster ride. And, I hear from God. Unexpected Encounters at the Praying Church.

Don’t miss the next installment of Going Local … subscribe HERE.

 

 

 

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Where I pause before proceeding with this series to tell you about the necessary parameters of the project, and — because I feel like I am about to poke a bees nest — the disclaimers.

contract1 doodle

One Moment Please

“My eyes were bigger than my stomach.” As I initially waded into the first parts of this project (inspired by my local Farmer’s Market) I quickly came to understand that I bit off more than I can chew.

– Yes I am interested, hungry to discover more about the larger idea of ‘church’ by beginning with a bit of exploration in my quirky little mountain town.

– Yes, with this series I have had a surge of new interest on my blog and a sudden spike in subscribers (Welcome, new subscribers!).

– And yes, I have already visited two churches. In the last post I noted that the church trek would begin here, with the first church on my list. I am ready to get going!

However, turns out I needed to pause for a bit. There are a whole lot of local faith communities in my town. More than I thought. If I visit all of the churches in the area I will still be doing tis project in the fall of 2016. That’s … well … too much, really.

Before heading forward, I backed up a bit in order to build some specific and more realistic project parameters. So, before we proceed with the first church on my trek, I thought you should hear what I’ve been working on, behind the scenes.

 

The Scope

The number of faith communities in relation to population is a little staggering up here on the mountain. So, I set out to create a list which limits the participating communities and narrows the scope. For the record, my long list of potential churches is nothing compared to the nearest city. Down the mountain, Colorado Springs has a reputation as the conservative Christian mecca in the United States. It is home to power house ministries like Focus on the Family, Young Life, Navigators, YWAM, Compassion International, and New Life Church. Christian radio stations abundantly populate the FM dial. Christian bookstores are easy to locate. And, there are a LOT of churches. A lot.

I got side-tracked in my research and spent some time flipping through the lists of churches in the Springs. The longer the list got, the more I felt a familiar burn and nag at my core. It’s the same bothersome question that follows me around lately:

Why do we have so many of the same kinds of churches and so few that will actually interact or relate with each other?

I am bothered with this question. (I asked a similar question on my Facebook page a few weeks back and got some really interesting answers. You can go check that out in the direct link at the end of this post). The question grows out of the same space in my brain that is currently questioning American Christian wealth, and power and elitism. I wrestle with the legacy of American protestantism which constantly measures the threats of The Wrongs vs The Rights and defends The Correct from The Incorrect. Not to sound all utopian, but I wonder about our tendency to go to separate corners and build separate buildings and create separate mission statements. In my experience, we don’t generally behave like we are all a part of the same “one body” and “one Spirit” as described in the Bible.*

Hopefully my burning question will fuel some open dialogue and bring some clarity. In the meantime, back to the point, I have narrowed my list of faith communities.

For research purposes, I have chosen to visit a significant sampling of churches which:

  • Are local, meaning, reasonably close to my house
  • Demonstrate a fair cross-section of “Christian” denominations and backgrounds.
  • Currently meet in a local church building
  • Profess belief in Jesus

The Parameters

  • I will not name the exact names of the churches I explore, as I want this to be a larger conversation about going local with faith community rather than a small conversation about specific churches.
  • I will attend each community’s worship service 2 or 3 times.
  • I will not dress up ‘churchy’. I will wear jeans and/or similar every day clothes.
  • I will contribute tithe.
  • I will read the mission statement.
  • I reserve the right to arbitrarily exclude communities which exhibit dangerous community practices or cultic characteristics.
  • I will set up an interview with a church leader, priest, or pastor.
  • I will ask the question, Why Is your church necessary when there are so many other churches in the area?”

 

The Disclaimers

I am not an expert. I have a lifetime wealth of personal and professional experience in the conservative evangelical American protestant church. That said, what I write on this blog may not reflect a scholarly body of knowledge — the kind that might come from any number of people who are smarter and wiser than me. Any views I express about the faith communities I visit are unapologetically from my limited personal experience. I am committed to being as fair and objective as possible. My opinions are simply offered to be considered and weighted as opinions which are open for discussion.

I am a Jesus Follower. This mountain church experiment will openly embrace and explore various views and religious affiliations or denominations. Most any day of the week I am totally game for conversations about different world religions. However, the scope of this particular project is limited to faith communities which claim and in some way adhere to a Christian belief system.

We will be civil.  Feel free to respond, challenge me, disagree with me, or tell me I’m completely nuts in the comments section, but I reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason whatsoever (including trolling, abusive, profane, or rude comments). I am the sole moderator of the content of this site, so we are going to keep it civil.

There you have it.

 

Your Turn … Your Question

I just mentioned my burning question about why there are so many churches in my region. And now I’d like to know yours.

I tossed the following question out to my subscribers and got a load of great hard-hitting responses. So I am opening up the opportunity. What’s your burning question(s)? Go ahead leave me your question in the Comment section. Or, if you don’t want your question to be quite so public, feel free to message me in the Contact tab up on the top of the website.

As I’m formulating my own questions for pastors, priests, and elders, I’d love to consider yours as well.

church question

If you’d like to make sure you are a part of the Church Trek experience, please subscribe HERE. You’ll get a weekly Saturday update anytime there is new content, and I will occasionally check in with this group as I need specific help or insight. (Because yes, I do NEED HELP on a regular basis.)

 

NEXT … the first church on my Mountain Church Trek. Really.

Unless I get bogged down in more disclaimers. : )

 

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*Referenced: The Bible, Ephesians 4:4-6

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

 

See the Facebook Discussion and join in here … Hit this link: Post by Kelley J. Leigh.

 

Where I explain that I left “church” and why I have decided to try again … kind of.

 

woodland-park-farmers-market

Community

My quirky little mountain town clears the road by the park every Friday morning for The Farmer’s Market.  One half is art and crafts, the other half is local produce, food, and flowers. The street is lined with tent tops on either side and lines of crowds streaming between, to pet rescue puppies, taste salsa, buy bread or admire woodworking.  For me, last week’s market meant beets, basil, and honey from the guy who owns the RV park out in Lake George that just got hit by a freak tornado.

This summer I have made a commitment to be at the Farmer’s Market early, and to be open to pause and engage with whatever interactions happen. I don’t intimately know absolutely everybody, but a majority of the people wandering the street at least know of each other. And since I stepped away from the church our family attended for over a decade, I hear a common question, over and over. At community events, weddings, funerals, or farmer’s markets I hear, “Hey, what church are you going to now?”

Up-Rooted

For a while, my acceptable answer to the inevitable question was the name of a downtown church that my husband and I occasionally attend.  It’s a progressive Anglican-influenced faith community that meets in a retro auditorium of a high school about 30 miles down the mountain. I enjoy visiting there for three reasons.

One: The pastor is a spiritually gifted and anointed teacher. Freakishly personal things come out of his teachings. Some Sundays I’m like, “Was he a fly on the wall of my house this week?”

Two: Group worship and communion are just plain good for my soul and my faith.

Three: It is far away. The downtown church is a long drive down the mountain. This worked especially well for me during my season of healing from what I’ve known as church. I benefitted greatly from being the consumer anonymous. In a Farmer’s Market sense, I became the warehouse shopper without any connection to the food growers.

The cool new downtown church-plant is an awesome community, but it is not ‘home’. My soul has not set down roots there.

Untangled

The idea of living out faith in a community is bolted, welded into the shape of my faith. I grew up happily bouncing between pews and Fellowship Halls as a pastor’s kid in a northwest suburb of Chicago.  I spent rich childhood years with close friends in rooms with insider names like The Fireside Room and the Narthex. My weeks were filled with Sunday School, youth groups and church services. A long thread that is the American Protestant church weaves and sews through the tapestry of my life through adulthood.

If I have been woven and spun within the culture of conservative evangelical churches, the past couple of years have been a rather strenuous unraveling.

In the untangling of what I’ve understood as church, I have come to understand how the work of church became a drug for me. I mistakenly came to use church like a false cistern to fill my sense of worth in a constant flow of programs. I had a hundred busy ways to ‘serve’ God while running away from any true rest or healing from him. As Christian mystic, Richard Rohr puts it, I had “a love affair with words and ideas about God instead of God himself or herself.”

Somewhere along the way, church became my best means to avoid true intimacy with God, and people.

Boiled Down 

During our shared process of church deconstruction, my husband and I chose a stripped-down faith community setting.  We moved into a micro-church and met with our 3 or 4 people each week. In living room spaces, I learned a lot about the benefits of:

  • Eating together in homes
  • Intentional time that is not scheduled down to the minute and is open to spiritual interruption
  • Healing Prayer
  • Reading Bible quotes
  • Hard questions about how to stop ‘managing circumstances’ and rest long enough to really trust Jesus
  • Authentic conversation about how to allow God’s Spirit into marriage and real life struggles

According to Christianity Today, we were in good company:

“24.5% of Americans now say their primary form of spiritual nourishment is meeting with a small group of 20 or less people every week. About 6 million people meet weekly with a small group and never or rarely go to church,” [Ed] Stetzer says. “There is a significant movement happening.”

It’s all fine and well to be a part of a significant movement. But personally, I just needed time to relearn community in a smaller context — one with space to heal and the absence of a stage. After some time away from my ‘drug’, I feel lighter now, more authentic, in a new way both sober and joyful.

If my faith used to be a full pot of thick liquid on the stove, it is now boiled down to the last essential salty remnants. A handful of irreducible minimums remain of my core beliefs as a Christian. So many add-ons and non-essentials have evaporated. What remains for me are a very few tenants of Biblical doctrine as found in ancient bottom-line statements like the Apostle’s Creed; a whole lot of listening prayer; and a longing to love people in a newly-born Jesus way.

And, boiled down, at the very bottom of my pot called Jesus Faith, I can honestly say I still believe we are built to grow in context of a larger faith community.

I just have so many open questions about what that means. I feel like I’m starting over.

Going Local

Most of the people I know who are looking for a new faith community head down the mountain to large worship centers and mega churches; the ones with blockbuster worship, coffee shops and parking attendants.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In food speak, most people I know choose to make a long drive to the huge high-volume warehouse versions of church down the hill.

But The Farmer’s Market got me thinking about about the benefits of going local; of eye contact, everyday relationships, shared food, and sustainable travel.  And somehow that translates cleanly to my current experience with church.

The Farmer’s Market used to kind of stress me out because it was so … well … social. Little local markets are about face-to-face community, people and their livelihoods. Commercial warehouse and grocery stores are about clean floors, well marked exits and entrances, properly marked shopping cart returns, and customer service. Farmer’s markets are about dogs, soil, weather, unplanned conversations and a lack of parking.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all about the comfortable convenience of a commercial grocery store. But these days, in a lot of ways, I’m more about the mess.

I am walking the streets of the open air mountain market more slowly, with a lot more peace and freedom. I am seeing people from the faith community I used to attend and I am freer to engage. I find myself simultaneously holding a hope for those who have left, and a love for those who stayed. And that freedom has led me to a question.

What would it mean to go local with church?

Even though I was obviously very involved at a church here in town, I don’t actually know all the faith communities within spitting distance of my house. I want to embark on a journey to find out about the local church around me. At least, I think I do.

Like I’ve said, this is a quirky town. People move up here because we tend to be difficult lone-eagle types with authority issues. Area churches tend to sprout up and split-off the way viruses grow under a microscope.  I’ll talk more about that as the series goes on. Frankly, I am a little nervous – concerned that maybe I am poking a black bear or a bees nest.

But I want to do this.  I am hungry for a bigger picture of the organism called local ‘Church”. And it all seems right and messy like the Farmer’s Market.  Eye to eye. Hearts beating. Face to face.

I’m going local.  ‘Wanna ride along?

I’d love to hear your thoughts:

What about you?

Do you relate to the need to explore a new way of doing church?

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Don’t miss any of the small town adventure.

On my first stop … find out what I discover at the church

with recliner Lazy-boy chairs, tambourines, and a puppy in the front row. 

Subscribe HERE to get the weekly Saturday Update.

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CITED:

Christianity Today, “The State of the Church“, Ed Setzer, October 2013.

“The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See” by Richard Rohr, 2009 Crossroad Publishing.  (I love this book!)

 

 

Where I wonder about the necessity of certain fractures in life and share a quick picture of two little dove eggs hiding in a charred log.

After dinner. Before sunset. In the forest. On a hike.

My husband and I huffed along behind our big old dog on a dirt trail up on Rampart Range. A mourning dove flew off to our left in a panic. “What was that!?”  The bird had flown from the truncated remains of a pine tree. The black trunk, now a stump no taller than my chin, probably burned in the Waldo Canyon Fire that raged through these parts back in 2012.

Up on my tip-toes, I peered down into a nest the size of my hand. There in strands of grass, lay two oval shells the size of large June strawberries. Warm round possibilities of new life incubated in a bed of coal black ruin.

In that unlikely place, those eggs got me thinking about the necessary pain of hatching.

Staring at those perfectly smooth shells, it’s hard to believe:
Brokenness is the gateway to flight.

 

hatch

 

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Similar Posts: 

Peace in the Pieces

Middle of a Million

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Where I talk about embracing hidden messes.

 

old-couch_ashley-vowinckel

 

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.

It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest.

The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

 

Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

 

Craigsrisk

I should have known. The picture on Craigslist was a little too blurry and dark.

The heavily pregnant wife met me at the door. She pushed back her long hair, set her hand on her lower back, and led me past three young grade school boys and a dog playing in dirt and swings beyond the smudged patio doors. They had just moved in, she explained. It was going to be a girl this time. We walked past her husband’s newly framed Army medals hanging on the wall and found the couch in a room full of unpacked boxes and bags. The claw feet were in a separate bag, so I couldn’t sit on the couch and test it out. Only a year old, it had cost over 3,000 dollars she said, and it should look brand new but the movers just wrecked it when they pulled it out of storage. She sniffed and rolled her eyes like it happened yesterday. I touched the leather and craned to see around the back. I removed the pillows and a couple crayons peeked out from between and I thought I saw a juice box stain. I have spent much time vacuuming and cleaning similar terrain beneath cushions. This couch was not one year old. The scrapes were not from movers. I am a seasoned mom of four boys. I know.

She looked so weary; the baby had clearly dropped and was due any day. She was tired, desperate to be rid of the sofa which clearly would not fit in her new house full of small children. She was willing to use any means to get rid of it; any means except an admission of the buried truth.

 

I recognized something of myself in her.

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know I experienced a long free-falling icy slide at mid-life. To that point I had built a life around the management of circumstances and emotions. I maintained a facade and kept up appearances. Before my husband bravely demanded a change in our marriage, before so many other cracking and transforming things of life that came crashing in besides him, I used to regularly hide and cry in the bathroom. I used to isolate until I could pull myself together. I masterfully concealed my anger and suppressed my depression. I lived that way, in crowds of unsuspecting family and church friends, hiding in plain sight with broken things stuffed away in the deep creases of my private world.

Given the crayons and lies, I got the feeling there were hidden things stuffed deep inside the young Craigslist mom as well; things only God could see.

Sharp Things

I decided to take the risk and buy the couch. My oldest son and the military husband strained to load the monstrous piece of furniture into the back of our pick-up. As we drove away, I had serious second thoughts.

At home in my living room, I pulled off the cushions and reached down in the folds with a well-practiced caution. I know this drill. Sometimes sharp objects lurk below. My fingers prodded with learned discretion from forks and scissors in years past.

Sharp and painful things can’t be removed unless we are willing to take a risk and drag them out into the light.

So, I gingerly retrieved an unopened new pack of soccer pencils, chewed lollipop sticks, a Lego brick, candy wrappers, and a small stack of tags for new toddler clothes. Honestly, the more junk I found, the more irritated and angry I felt.

Somewhere in the midst of so many found objects, anger wore away to sadness. I felt sad for her prison of hiding. Because, I get it. The way of vulnerability — of moving toward and being honest about the mess — it’s scary business. Having pulled my own crap out into the open, I know. In that place, you could say I found Jesus standing beside me with a gentle smile and a garbage bag. As a result, I’m a changed woman with less tendency to hide in the bathroom. I’ve learned it’s ok to speak the truth of broken things hidden away. In fact, that’s a wide path to freedom. But I remember when I chose my prison instead. I do.

So, I gently scrubbed the remnants of something that looked like spilled milk, and I wished the same freedom for her. I wish I could tell her I’ve seen her concealed debris but I’d still choose it anyway. And I hope her new baby girl is thriving.

craigslist couch

Repurposed

My husband fixed the sagging springs on the left side. I buffed the leather seats and arms, and covered a bunch of big old throw pillows with new fabric. The couch doesn’t really match the style of the rest of my house, but it is everybody’s first choice seat in the living room. The big comfortable well-worn sofa invites you to put your feet up, settle in, and talk at length. I like to think it’s a personal reminder, smack dab in the middle of where we live everyday.

There is freedom in the vulnerable face-to-face embrace of hidden messes.

 

Gifts of imperfection

 

 

 

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Free Couch | Flickr image by Ashley Vowinickel