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