Saturday, February 19, 2011
Articles, blog posts and Facebook status updates offering encouraging accolades, respectful commentary and constructive criticism regarding Big Tent Christianity in Phoenix are beginning to surface and much less hastily than I would have predicted! I really wanted to weigh in on the commentary while the energy was still palpable...before the 'camp-high' wore off...Although the 'tent' is packed up (for now) and the event has been over for days, the celebrating, ruminating and pontificating is sure to continue for a while.
I expected to quickly hammer out a profound event summary after basking in unrivaled ecumenical diversity, heady academic discourse as well as some tense (but respectful) conversation surrounding electrifying hot button issues. The two day conference was an informational panacea; a conversational opportunity with dialogue hanging in the air like juicy vine ripened grapes, waiting to be plucked and savored. In an environment as rich and flavorful as this, how could anyone NOT find a gripping angle to promote or something valuable to take to the bank?
Yet, days later, I'm sifting through a bajillion mostly disconnected thoughts that are still marinating in my brain. I can't seem to get a firm grasp on any of them. As both conference participant and member of the steering team helping organize the event, I feel like I had a slightly atypical vantage point that provided me with opportunities to be wowed by the event's brilliance in one moment, like Dorothy encountering The Emerald City, and in the next instant, bump into the very human side of things, realizing that "The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz" is just a dude...hiding behind a curtain, pulling some levers and not very 'mysterious' at all. Yes, there are a lot of directions I could go with my commentary depending on which filter I use.
One the perks of being on the planning committee was reading through the post conference surveys which cataloged the opinions and suggestions of the participants in response to this 'thing' they had just experienced. In general, people overwhelmingly agreed there was much to appreciate about BTX, most notably the caliber of speakers (Fr. Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Carol Howard-Merritt, Anthony Smith, Rachel Held-Evans, Brian Ammons, Nadia Boltz Weber and Marcus Borg etc...) as well as the scope of their discussions. Some of what I heard from the BIG three, Borg, McLaren and Rohr, was redundant (for a conference junkie like me) leaving me to confess the best material came from the undergraduates speakers. The conference surveys supported this observation as well.
As is always the case with these kinds of events, surveys and committee debriefing exfoliate some negative feed back which is always a bit of a buzz-kill. And although it's tempting, I've decided against making the breadth of my blogpost a snarky tirade about my own personal unmet expectations or flippantly criticising the manifestation of BTX in Phoenix, an event (eventual movement)that to my knowledge hasn't been accomplished with any greater success anywhere prior.
Here's what I do want to say...Big Tent Christianity didn't fix all of our systemic issues with diversity and inequality. It didn't mend all the bridges or even commence with construction on a few. Did people really come to a freaking two day event expecting all of our multiple centuries old issues to dissipate into thin air? Seriously people. BTX is a romantic and compelling idea for unity in the body of Christ...which idealists (even closet idealists like me) latch onto...and the reality is, it's only one tiny step in a million mile march.
I recently learned and am slowly internalizing that our expectations have the potential to cause us great harm and pain. It has been true for me that when I create firm expectations and hold them up as the ideal, I eliminate all other possibilities. Artist Barry Taylor said it something like this; "We've got to give up expecting everybody to be on the same page here...it's not going to happen." So.True. However, there is one page I'd like to see us try a little bit harder to occupy together, and that's honest gender equality manifested on the conference platform. If we can't come closer to bridging the male/female divide first...I'm holding very little hope for the bigger philosophical differences.
I feel like I have to address that issue publicly because god knows I've bitched about it to anyone who would listen (yes, even the BTX guys) I'm not bitching just because gender inequality was an issue evoking huge disappointment for me but because the event surveys as well as M A N Y personal conversations with friends who also attended BTX, revealed there was a legitimate breakdown there. This oversight or neglect, has produced disillusionment with the idea that we can ever truly overcome this male-female stuff on any real practical level. I carried an understated expectation with me to the conference believing the creators of BTX understood and respected the expectation of greater gender equality to such a degree that they would necessarily execute a better example of what unity in this one area looks like. I was wrong.
I cannot pretend that I am not profoundly disappointed with the apparent inability of enlightened-progressive-emergining-Christian-men to create a gender balanced speaking line up. Really...14-15 male voices to 3 female voices is unacceptable. Here's the deal guys...we're counting on you as people endowed with privilege in places of power and influence to do this thing better! It's not enough to theoretically ascribe to an idea of gender equality...or to write about it in your books. Unless you are intentional, even sacrificial about demonstrating your convictions and giving some of your power away, everything you do comes across as insincere and untrustworthy. Leaving my former faith behind, I hoped to be abandoning mere beliefism for the more incarnational. Who is going to start living this stuff...even when it impacts their wallets or livelihood? Action talks and bullshit walks. Enough Said.
My Big Tent take away was a simple personal epiphany, sometimes I call these spiritual-shit-sandwiches. In many ways I came looking for answers to satisfy theological leanings. What I actually gleaned had little to do with specific progressive theology, postmodernity or orthodoxy. Instead, my big 'ah-ha' moment was recognizing and admitting to myself I don't care. I'm tired of atonement theories, tired of thinking about the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus verses a metaphoric one or even the Divine nature of the scriptures. I simply don't have the energy or perhaps even the intellect for that right now.
Personally, BTX became less about the dichotomy between liberal and conservative Christianity and more about truly connecting with people who are different than I am or think different than I do. It became about me having a chance to offer real friendship and hospitality, making others feel more welcome...sometimes with a beer or three! For me, Big Tent Christianity was about practicing presence with people who were formerly 'off-limits'...the abominable gays, scary heretical Jesus Seminar types as well as the aging mainliners (who were never credited with being real Christians either) What I extracted wasn't what I thought it would be...it's actually better.
Turns out...sharing conversation about God over a heady home brew IS spiritual and IT IS GOOD...(so suck it Ken Silva...you know not of what you speak) Enjoying a plastic tumbler of frothy cream ale or infamous "dark and dangerous" whisky barrel stout with my ever expanding church family and beginning to wake up to the reality that I fit somewhere, even if it's a bit theologically muddy and less defined, is okay with me right now because I get by with a little help from my friends.
I found the meatiness of Big Tent didn't end up being a theological bridge crossing over some deep doctrinal abyss...It certainly wasn't about how many sardonic tweets you could pepper the twitterverse with. It came down to people. What ultimately happened for me is that my own personal tent was made much, much bigger in the company of messy, eclectic, humble individuals experiencing spiritual reformation. I have to say...BTX boasted some crazy-skilled-tent-makers and fixers...like Anthony Smith who through sharing in my laughter and tears, inexplicably helped repair older damaged parts of my existing tent, allowing me to experience a modern day'Pentecost' and the healing spirituality of cross-cultural friendship *Thank you Anthony for your loving kindness*.
Lastly, in the spirit of Big Tent...I'd like to chat up Emerging Desert, my little faithful cohort in Mesa Arizona. We echo the sentiments of Nadia Boltz-Weber who noted that her community doesn't do anything particularly well they just do 'it' together. Ditto. If EmDes does anything...it's hospitality and home brew and yes, always better done together. Our first article of faith is that theology without beer and friendship...sucks! We boast not one but two talented home-brewers...my husband Jim (aka Jimbo Baggins Brewing) and Christian Salafia (aka Salems Brew) who both lovingly created a total of 15 gallons of pure awesomeness to share with anyone who was able to stop by the Wednesday and Thursday evening mixers! We were honored to host these sacred spaces and truly enjoyed facilitating valuable points of connection and conversation to promote an ever renewing and expanding...Big Tent.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
H8ers, I just want you to know that I have been going through one of the most difficult seasons of my life in connection with my faith. I am NOT where I used to be but I am NOT without Christ. He promised NEVER to leave me or forsake me. I know you believe the Bible is always clear and literal, this seems so clear...should I take IT literally?
I am only starting to catch a faint glimpse of how much bigger and compassionate God is...so much bigger than I ever understood before. I am told in scripture that His mercy is new every morning and His compassion does not fail...I also read that he will not crush a tender reed or snuff out a faintly burning flame, right now...I feel like that's speaking to me. It's reported that He cares for the broken hearted and HE will leave the 99 who are 'secure', to find the one that might wander and appear to be lost. Can I take THAT literally? If I am as lost as you fear...then I'll trust Jesus to mean what he says. I KNOW I will hear his voice as I have before...Your voices do not sound like His to me...lalalalala...I'm not listening any more!
You have NO idea of the loss that I've suffered...personally, emotionally and spiritually, as a result of prior church abuse and the way that things really went down at the last 'church' we attended with you...the one you still pimp. It ALMOST...ALMOST, took everything...it practically distroyed my faith...but...I feel like there is still a tiny bit of God residue left and I am clinging to that and trusting that God to make sense out of it some day. In the mean while...as I work/walk out my own salvation with fear and trembling...sticking as close to the example Jesus lived as I can; I rest in knowing the best news of all is that I (as well as all the other souls in the world) will NOT answer to you when we pass from this life to the next...
I want you to know that experiencing this unnecessary ordeal with you...the demonstration of your lack of understanding...and your lack of DESIRE to understand, has not caused me to want to persue the faith that you live and and seem to delight in scaring others into...In fact, I don't want to look anything like you.
Your public lies and attempts to shame and humiliate me, my husband as well as so many other people you've been 'friends' with thru the years, has done just that. I feel condemned and judged and beaten up.
Here's the deal though...I just can't find any examples of Jesus employing the same methods in communicating the 'good news'. I can't ever recall Him shaming the "lost" sinner into the kingdom...well, except maybe the anal retentive Pharisee's but not the whore, tax collector or other 'undesirables' like me. Certainly he didn't blow them off with trite LOL's as he's dissing them on FB.
? LOL ?
SO...with that...you have confirmed to me that you are selling something I do not want. Was that your intention? Because though you probably don't care and wouldn't believe it any way...the truth is, in the last two days, you have helped to aggitate only partially healed wounds, doing as much to push me away from your message...aka...the only true way in Christ message , as any unfortunate and abusive church experience I've endured in the past.
You have not demonstrated the fruit of the spirit. I don't expect you to get this either...for obvious reasons...but...if you have, as you report, communicated my folly to me 'in Love at all...why does it feel like the sadistic love of an abusive parent or spouse? There is no joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and especially self control in the way you have chosen to talk to me, as well as about me IRL and on FB to people we don't even know. That is GOSSIP that borders on slander. It's my understanding that if God marked our any of our transgressions...who could stand? Is that literal or figurative?
I admit...unlike Jesus, one of my biggest vices is being vendictive...I suppose this blog post is a good example.I suck. But man, I am so tempted to expose your sin. I feel like it would make my heart happy to uncover it ALL to anyone who would take the time to read it here. But, I know that rush of adrenaline and feeling of you getting what you deserve...would be quickly replaced by terrible remorse and failing to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I could do it. I could put it all out there...but what would that do? It might make me feel pretty powerful and superior for 9 seconds...and then...I'd hate me. And...if I am able to discern the voice of Jesus...it seems he's reminding me that He wouldn't do that to you...no matter what. *sigh* It's hard for me to die to myself.
Having observed your actions personally and virtually, the only thing I can surmise is that you know your shit stinks...maybe worse than most...and you are afraid that God is going to bust you. You project that fear in your message...hoping it will make up for the all the times you've failed. It's the only thing that could possibly explain why you work so hard to create a pious, sanctimonious identity on FB. WOWING gullible 'friends' with your ability to copy and paste cherry picked scripture in to status updates...trying to underscore your fear of a God that delights in the idea of tormenting lost sinners...just like you and me...in an eternal hell forever.
I really wish you could know how much damage you have done...I tried to tell you. I tried to share my story...I tried to explain it to you. But you responded by acting like an 8th grade bully...threatening me with God's wrath. You resorted to using sarcasm, attempting to cover up for and even blame me for your flippant and hurtful words. It's sad to me that you missed the message of humility and meekness in the life of Christ, as well as the idea of stiving for peace and reconcilitation. I wish you would STOP neglecting the best part of the message, it's so unhelpful.
I guess at this point...if I've misunderstood your actions or words...I'd have to place the fact that "I just don't GET IT...or I MISSED IT THIS TIME", on your shoulders. Are you preaching it...are you bringing it? Then it's your responsibility to deliver the message with clarity. Thats the law of communication. If there are misunderstandings...then it is your job to communicate MORE CLEARLY. Sadly though, I don't think I "missed it". What you've communicated and miscommunicated "so clearly" has without a doubt distroyed my interest in your message...forever. I actually think that's something I should celebrate...I refuse to believe in the gospel of H8ers.
Now with that said and with the provocation of friends...I am cutting you out...and off. I will be relieved to have you completely out my life...you have been sources of pain and disappointment for a while and if, as you suspect is true, I have failed to internalized the 'only true way in Christ' as communicated and modeled by you...its because your actions and lack of love got in the way.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
A few weeks ago...I was enticed to attend the TransFORM east coast conference...a gathering for the missional/incarnational minded. Everything about this conference excited me, starting with the cost...which was FREE, thanks to Wesley Theological Seminary! I'm not gonna lie...a free missional conference with a lot of other possible freebie options (plane ticket, transportation from Dulles to Arlington VA...and a place to crash for the duration) made this conference completely irresistible. But, before I ever knew how financially accessible TransFORM would become for me...I was consumed with the desire to get there. I can't say for sure what the allure was for the other 200-300 people who somehow made their way to DC from all over the USA and Canada...But for me it had much less to do with the A-list speakers, smorgasbord of workshops or even the FREE part...and everything to do with a LOVE...and a compulsion for community and connection with my extended family in the Kingdom of God.
From the moment I set one foot on the Wesley campus I noticed a palpable energy...the vibe was a little like a gigantic long anticipated family reunion... We became instant cousins, nieces, nephews, aunties, uncles, brothers and sisters...through our spiritual DNA. Introductions seemed to be mere formalities because so many of us already knew the other thru social media and the blogosphere. Usually limited to virtual community (#twitter and facebook)...this gathering was a tangible opportunity for 'facetime' and hugging necks! LOVE pulsated and spilled out all over the place...It was truly beautiful. The overwhelming feeling of inter-connectivity never dissipated once for me and...and as I surveyed this unlikely family of mine...I surmised "I could *almost* imagine myself participating in 'real' church if it looked like 'this'... (o;
As much as I appreciate the 'powerhouse' keynote speakers scheduled at this FREE conference...(read: Brian McLaren and Peter Rollins) I was actually more stirred-up by the fact that the background voices in the vast arena of emergence/incarnational/missional Christianity were featured on the same platform, sharing their realities from the front lines. Though I usually devour the controversial books and provocative theological conversations the BIGGER names bring...I can honestly say I didn't come for that. I came to hear from people like Kathy Escobar of the Refuge, Anthony Smith aka Postmodernegro, Tim Condor of Emmaus Way, Phil Shepherd of The Eucatastrophy...not to mention Eliacin Rosario-Cruz, Jonathan Brink and Mark Scandrette to name a few...people I can truly relate to...some I call true friends and mentors. These are the people who are living daily this thing we call missional/incarnational...for-reals. This is what ultimately drew me to the conference and it's what inspired me. It whet my appetite for something more...even though I'm not quite sure what that is just yet.
Despite an ongoing storm of doubt and uncertainty in my mind...along with the subsequent spiritual deconstruction I 've been walking through for the past couple years, I hesitantly admit that I've recently felt pangs and provocations equally terrifying for me. I'm still standing in a heap of smoldering ashes of my past systematic theology and churchianity...but I'm compelled to excavate what's left of my core beliefs and best dreams in hopes that I might have the courage to eventually begin a creative process of rebuilding and reconstructing spiritual praxis in the context my own community of sojourners. What's the fear in it all? It's that it will never materialize or that I'll have to do it alone. One of the the greatest things about the TransFORM community in general is that it was populated with a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before me in this process...Experiencing that up close breathed life into what is for me too often a deflated and defeated hope when it comes to me and my relationship to 'the church'.
It's not so difficult to re-imagine vibrant faith, spirituality and community in a "liberated space" ripe with diversity, creativity, love...and unconditional acceptance. It was so easy for me to relax in this safe 'Hush Harbor' ( thanks Anthony for the great analogy) with people who understand what it feels like to be rejected and held in contempt by some evangelical communities today, like the one I came from. I could see the out working of the gifts within the body and the leveling of the playing field...the humility of them all...just doing their own unique thing in the context of togetherness...it manifested like a great orchestra with every instrument playing...creating a magnificent overture. It was, I think THE WAY it's all supposed to be. Most of the time I sat and soaked in it...and dreamed about there being similar communities all over the world for people who wanted to be a part of something like that.
I heard some pretty powerful messages too...my little composition book of notes is now like a sacred text. Truth and Hope were communicated to me in so many ways and by so many prophets...I certainly feel TransFORMed by much of it. I believe the experience has and will continue to shape my spiritual future...yet I have a long way to go and a lot to still overcome. But alas...those thoughts and epiphanies will have to wait for another post to them any justice! To be continued...
Monday, April 19, 2010
This post was initially intended for submission May 19th as part of a synchro-blog organized by Julie Clawson. a early morning visit to the ER prevented me from getting it done...at any rate here it is.
I grew up expecting God to do something....to be up to something...especially something “new”.Charismatic Christians in traditions like that of my past are eternally optimistic...instinctively believing that God is always about to be ‘up to something new’. Sure, sometimes God does something new in fairly innocuous ways and then other times...He does something crazy...like that whole Toronto Blessing thing...where sanctuaries full of ‘spirit filled believers’ pass around a contagious-side-splitting-spirit-induced laughter lasting hours on end. Back in the day, I heard many breathless and confident prophets herald God’s eminent intention to “do a new thing” with the goal of moving our church in a new or innovative direction. I lived in a chronic state of expectancy for decades...yet I could have never expected the radically uncomfortable new thing I am living today.
~Forget the former things; do not dwell in the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland~ ~ Isaiah 43:18
As nouveau and 'fringy' as emergent Christianity may seem to many modern conservatives today, I surmise the plunge into the scene...errr conversation...is far from ground breaking, innovative or historically NEW. In fact, it seems obvious to me that the process of emerging and emergence have been happening in the realm of Christianity from its earliest days...That said, I confess as a 43 year old woman once steeped in ultra-conservative evangelicalism for more than 30 years...the story I currently find myself in is certainly unexpected and “NEW” to me. See, I officially jumped the ship of traditional Christianity (actually I was made to walk the plank) about two years ago, forcing me to sink like a rock deep into a dark tumultuous ocean of doubt, fear, and very little hope. There is nothing new under the sun about this kind of phenomena. However, the proliferation of safe places like cohorts, missional groups and other emergent friendly communities (proximal or virtual) willing to hold the tension we endure during the emotional and spiritual transition, is still fairly new but it is becoming more widespread.
Thankfully, before I had the chance to completely drown alone in my overwhelming fear and cynicism as a result of my shipwrecked faith, I was pulled into a tiny little life boat in the suburban desert of Arizona by a newly established Emergent Village Cohort(Emerging Desert)or EmDes as ‘we’ call it. This fledgling group was launched by a couple of friends to provide safe ‘space’ for “questioners, quitters, rebels and re-builders”, which was very good news for me as I was (and still am) all of those things. EmDes rescued me in a very real way, providing an open and safe place to dialogue about my messy journey, ask my dangerous questions and work through my sh*t without the fear of rejection or even worse, excommunication. As far as I am concerned, this alone saved my faith...
Groups of people that gather intentionally to carve out safe spaces for others in a season of liminality or transition, wrought with pain, questions, doubt, and thread bare hope...is the essence of ‘what continues to emerge in the emerging global church’...and I hope it will always be so. Some emergent voices much more informed and astute that mine, who have engaged the post-modern emergent Christian dialogue for decades, now project the movement is already imploding...a few would even pronounce it dead. I suppose that could be true in some circles and instances...But I doubt emergence Christianity will ever disappear. It seems to me as long as the institutional church exists in its current form with the issues and baggage many perceive it to have...there will always be individuals that continue to face real moments of crisis in their faith and new spiritual epiphanies, eventually they jump ship or get pushed overboard like I did...simply for daring to ask the heretical questions and dream out loud new dreams for the Kingdom of God. What is important in that moment is...finding a place to belong...asking is there room in the Kingdom of God for 'other-ness'... and can faith thrive there?!
Cohorts, missional tribes, small urban churches, emergent friendly mainstreamers as well as the less formal kitchen table conversations continue to create and hold refreshing life giving liminal and liberated spaces (or temporary autonomous zones as Brian McLaren refers to them) that will no doubt serve as life boats for countless others to cling to when they fall over-board and attempt to weather dark stormy seas of deconstruction and from there navigate the dimly lit paths of re-building faith. The current trends and over arching narrative in emergent Christianity is provocative and important...but actually living this stuff out in all it's wild diversity...in the company of honest, courageous people, is really what it's all about...it's so important, at least to me! I don't mean to minimize the problematic areas and hot topics in emergence Christianity...those are real issues that need attention, but being a part of a liberated incarnational community is all that really matters for some...especially in the very beginning stages of the journey.
On a personal note, my specific community, EmDes,is experiencing it’s own emergence within emerging. Two years beyond our mostly agonizing deconstruction-wrestling-with-God phase, both separately and collectively, we have become more sensitive to the need to move beyond all that was...towards reconstructing and rebuilding something NEW. Yet, we are in no real hurry to define it or label it. We are still in transition, a true liminality, which I recently learned leads to an increased awareness of our own shadows and those of others...I think this is true, it has been for EmDes. This awareness within the context of community is promoting deeper intimacy with each other and challenges us to be prepared to welcome others at any time who need a safe place to detox from churchianity or who need a space to present an opposing point of view. I think we are right where we are supposed to be as we continue to refine our individual and collective mission in our community of faith in the context of emerging Christianity. Our little group has turned a figurative 'emergent' corner...we are experiencing a sort of spiritual revival on many different levels...especially as it relates to praxis.
What's emerging in my little piece of the emerging church community, EmDes, is a much anticipated maturity. We are asking different questions now...we are okay not having as many answers. We are making a Way in the desert...moving forward in our conversation collectively and individually...yet we continue to hold space and tension for the next sojourner who will be hoisted into our life boat, perhaps in the same sad state we once found ourselves in...needing a safe place to experience redemption of a fragile faith and a resurrection of lost hope and lost dreams in the company of community.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
There was a time in my former life, that I anxiously awaited the tour dates of a few ‘brand-name’ annual women’s conference events that made stops in Phoenix, where I live..I attended one or two of these events every single year without exception for probably an entire decade...In those days...descriptive words like ‘Virtue’, ‘Purpose-Driven’, ‘Extravagant’ or ‘Proverbs 31' coupled in some manner with the word “ WOMAN” captivated me... motivating me to rally my girlfriends to accompany me to these intentional and highly stylized events...
Right now I confess...as meaningful and engaging as those conferences were for me at the time...it’s extremely hard for me to be excited...let alone generous, when it comes to celebrating my ‘previous’ life as a compulsive evangelical Christian woman...I do not doubt that my attitude in this regard is unattractive...but the truth is, at this moment I struggle to connect meaning to most things that once were the highlight of my spiritual practice. The fact that my life today has completely derailed from the conservative evangelical tracks and looks absolutely nothing like it once did, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the messages and ideals celebrated and projected from the name-brand conference circuit or the elite women on the platform...is identifiably one of my greatest sources of pain and confusion.
It’s a long story...alluded to in past blog posts...but in a nutshell revolves around dashed expectations and painful breakups between the church and I. I don’t really understand it all myself...I am embarrassed to admit it but the key-note speakers of those past conferences and retreats once represented everything I longed for and thought I was called to be and have...Besides a ‘fuller’ relationship with God, achieving eventual impeccable spiritual maturity and moral character...I looked forward to becoming more polished and confident in myself and protecting, at all costs, an unwavering belief that God would eventually unfurl a BIG purpose and plan for my future at any moment...I held my breath. I believed. I waited and waited and waited.....
Five years and a crushing spiritual crisis later can have a profound affect on perspective...in fact, from my current vantage point, it seems impossible to me now that those women’s events (or any women’s event for that matter)...in all of their celebrated pageantry, could ever become catalysts for life altering spiritual experiences, buoying faith during the most challenging seasons of life for a single, a young married, a mother or church leader...but they do for so many women and they did for me too long ago..and I need to acknowledge that.
Even on a good day it's painfully obvious to me (and others)...that I am barely on the healthier side of what has been a debilitating crisis of faith...My evangelical-spirit-filled-purpose-driven-bubble was blown to freaking bits...leaving virtually nothing in tact...except for maybe a very teeny-tiny-barely-breathing desire to follow Jesus and also to be in relationship with and inspired by a community of strong faithful women. Sometimes even now, I almost believe I can feel a thready pulse on a few of my old dreams of purpose...but finding opportunities or outlets to experience this beyond the traditional institutional church is damn near impossible for me, not only logistically here in Phoenix...but also because of my cynical/heretical condition...I don't believe much anymore.. Nothing about those ‘other' on-going women’s conferences feels authentic or enticing to me in this place...and until recently, I’ve never come across any good alternatives.
A few months ago, I was invited to attend an obscure event for women interested Leadership...'Christian Leadership'...happening in the Portland area in March...I was immediately intrigued and repelled by the idea at the same time. All my fear of encountering anything remotely similar to my former 'church-y' conference experiences (especially involving THE "L"-WORD) was panic inducing...and *almost* won out over my curiosity and desire to reestablish new practice and tradition in my life. Fortunately, a couple of my lovely trusted women friends and virtual acquaintances assured me that if I was brave enough to go...I would appreciate, grow and even ENJOY my time there in the company of powerful yet unconventional women who are leading in the Way of Jesus...I conceded and secured my registration.
The event was in Portland making it an instant hit for a lifelong desert dweller like me. I could go on and on about the venue...the nearly 100 year old, 73 acre rambling property bursting with all varieties of flowering trees, shrubs and quaint gardens, Once a poor-farm during the depression...the main structure now flaunts beautiful yet gaudy 'Monte Python-esque' art work on walls, niches and every guest room door...mostly portraits of the previous residents and scenic Oregon country side. So creative and odd...but absolutely stunning; perfect imagery for this unique Convergence of women.
Unlike so many of my previous experiences with events specifically marketed towards ‘women’...I couldn’t help but notice there was NO fluff...or froof...or wedding-y-princess-y, dainty tea party-ish...or diva themed decorations
The conference room itself was brilliant without much fuss. Art-deco in design and boasting the most glorious mural that spanned an entire wall, floor to ceiling...depicting the simple unhindered life on the 'poor-farm' during the depression...The dozen or so tables were adorned with unassuming artifacts and antiques stuffed to over-flowing with all varieties of live plants...An old boot with a fern inside...a miniature herb garden inside an old dresser drawer; it was clever...but beyond that...it communicated to me an absolute truth that life is incorrigible and beauty and growth can come from or be contained in the most ‘unexpected’ things and places (and people)...a powerful theme for the weekend!
The most obvious and refreshing difference between Convergence and countless other women's LEADERSHIP events I’ve attended personally...was the women themselves. Diverse...unassuming...free...natural...make-up was optional for sure...What Liberty! Many women nonchalantly exposed their elaborate, colorful artistic tattoo's that told stories of transformation...there were some with body piercings...gauged ears...dreads...bandanas...and creatively-layered-recycled- clothing...A couple of artsy women furiously knitted socks, scarves and the like practically non-stop throughout the entire weekend. Some pretty pedestrian ladies were representing too. There were the more blendy P.T.O mom-types (like me) and of course the beautiful sage grammas exuding their wisdom, all equally valuable pieces of the mosaic...I felt completely comfortable and welcome..like I really belonged.
I don't want to go off on a tangent about appearances but...I have to qualify why this is significant to me...Having spent over 25 years in a homogeneous upper-end Christian fellowship...I can say beyond-a-shadow-of-doubt that 97% of the women who attended Convergence would have NEVER...EVER...in a million years have been chosen for positions of leadership...or given a 'visible' platform of any kind in past churches I’ve been affiliated with...based almost exclusively on their 'appearance'...and what that might infer about their character. It was immediately clear that the convergence women obviously didn't get the memo about tatts, piercings...and business casual...(or liberal use of the 'swears')as possibly being deterrents for leadership.(o: I know that a few...like me...were once told
..."it's not that you aren't capable...it's just you don't have the 'character"...read: you don't dress and talk like we need you to...you're a little too real and rough around the edges...YOU are a Leadership liability...too risky.
I love that they LEAD ANYWAY...with or without approval or permission!
Lastly I was struck and challenged by the theme explored at Convergence 2010..."Women Leading in the Way of Jesus". Leadership is an extremely uncomfortable topic for me lately...so much so that I nearly chose not to attend the conference and once there and seriously debated if I could even participate in one specific break-out group where the topic was exclusively related to personal experience with leadership. (This may be a WHOLE blog post in itself) It was obvious from the first 5 minutes of the conference, that Convergence would be very different in it's approach to leadership and the whole conference mentality...In fact, unlike the pop-culture model I am used to...the leadership at Convergence was understated, most notably...there were NO key-note speakers or celebrity personalities that the whole gig hinged on! Instead...several very humble and diverse wise women directed our discussions...handing it over to the participants almost exclusively...allowing us to interact with each other...to discover, minister to and support our sisters in and through our unique journey's of faith...it left so much 'room' for the spirit of God to be present and to speak...I LEARNED SO MUCH and I am still processing.
There is so much more I could expound on here about my experience at Convergence...I could ramble on for at least 7 more paragraphs...I want to talk about the ladies I met...their stories of physical, emotional and spiritual healing and survival...about their effervescent spirits...about their incredible personal accomplishments and ministries many 'obscure' by old standards...I want to expound on their sobriety...their innate strength and the power they possess and willingly give away...I want to talk more about their empathy and ability to love. This after all...is what qualifies them to be "Women Leading in The Way of Jesus!"
More to come...
Thursday, February 25, 2010
In its most obvious form it may manifest on a BIG grocery shopping day, when you have 137 items in your cart and reluctantly notice the gramma behind you, clutching a can of 'chunk light tuna' in one hand and a package of toilet paper in the other, sensing her impatience and urgency you are compelled to give-up your place in line...to her. Now, it's also true that you may "do unto others as you would have done unto you" many times over before the glorious day arrives that someone generously concedes their place in line to you... Ah But eventually it does happen and in those moments faith in humanity as well as in the beauty of sowing and reaping is revitalized.
However, beyond a few very pedestrian examples of "Karma come-back" unfolding daily, I have recently become aware of a bonus 'spiritual law' at work in my life...As far as I can tell...it's sole purpose seems to be to specifically help me 'keep it real'. Reminding me over and over that I see through a darkened glass (like limo tint) when it comes to truly knowing the depths of myself and understanding my own motives and actions.
In my life this phenomena is irreverently referred to by me as the "spiritual sh*t-sandwich", Irrefutably recognized as a unique hand-crafted 'situation or circumstance' served up I believe, by God almighty himself ...in order to expose and hopefully correct my hypocrisy, lack of love and arrogant egotism. I'm never exactly sure where and when a 'big-one' will get served...but statistically as I survey the past 5 years of my life, I can see definite connections to the times I've indignantly chosen to stand against a person, circumstance or idea...intending to label them/it as damned or at the very least unacceptable and wrong...which always involves passing judgement with overwhelming self-righteousness thru 'loveless' lenses of my limited perspective and tainted knowledge.
The Spiritual Sh*t sandwich...sure...it's a crass title for a spiritual law...but listen people, I've tried my best to keep the swears to a minimum here until now. For those who know me personally this is no easy task. This is one blog that cannot be sterilized for the delicate pallet... it is what it is. Now, just in case butter doesn't melt in your mouth or you've recently disposed of all your potty mouth friends after another careful study of the book of James...perhaps a few definitions regarding this spiritual phenomena would be helpful:
First, a spiritual sh*t-sandwich is not the typical everyday-variety sh*t-sandwich...While those can have a spiritual dimension depending on the topic matter...I find they are more simply the occasions when I confidently assert my assurance of an innocuous 'fact' or body of knowledge...only to find out almost immediately that I was completely and totally wrong-o. In my universe...there always seems to be a trivia pursuit champion in the immediate vicinity who knows 'the facts' and quickly corrects my misinformation...and I get 'served'...other than possible embarrassment there is little suffering involved.
The spiritual sh*t sandwich on the other hand, can certainly expose more simplistic varieties of stupidity and contradiction, but specializes in supernaturally, over time, creating a real life paradigm shift in my world. While it may take years for God to actually prepare...serving up the not-so-tasty treat seems to happen almost instantaneously, like overnight. When I've been served a 'big-one', a divine shifting and sifting occurs, promptly ushering me into a new era spiritually and emotionally...introducing me to an unusually painful new season of 'reality' that mysteriously allows me to 'walk in that other person's shoes'. It's creative force can fit me in a twinkling of an eye...with an ultra sensitive empathy-filter, allowing me to feel with extreme conviction, the exact opposite of what I did...regarding certain people and ideas...especially the repugnant political and theological ones...I think God LOVES this!
I've eaten my fair share of these sandwiches over the past 5 years...that I never ordered and never saw coming. And the most amazing thing is, I never know I've been served until long after the fact. Here's just one example:
I once was the epitome of the celebrated evangelical...I loved my life as one of God's super elite professional church goers. I loved Sunday...I loved church...I loved serving...I loved the programs...I loved the music...and I loved inviting friends! I loved it even more when those friends came and began to eventually give themselves over to loving church too. On the other hand...I could not comprehend why some people wanted nothing to do with the 'traditional' church...even a cool-contemporary-one like mine? It totally blew my mind when a person professed a vibrant faith in God yet wanted NOTHING to do with going to church! WILD!
On several occasions...I became so troubled by these confounding exchanges that I provoked hostile arguments using the Bible and sermon notes to highlight their error and delusion...hoping to lead them back into the fold.
If you know my story up to now, you know that I no longer 'go' to church in the traditional institutional sense. I don't even know how that happened...I don't feel as though I choose this path. In fact, I'm not sure if I was pushed (for my own safety of course) or if I jumped on my own volition, off what felt to me like a sinking ship. At any rate...I fell out of love for the entire church process...I don't believe in most of the popular manifestations currently available to me. Today, church for me has become more specifically about who I am in relationship to Jesus and the Kingdom He came to establish. One of the ways I express that each week is by hanging out at my house with a small group of skeptics, outsiders, questioners, quitters, dreamers and rebuilders...
That, my friends, is a CLASSIC spiritual sh*t sandwich . I am now the person that I previously misunderstood...judged...condemned...and dismissed as useless in context to the body of Christ...ahhhhh...how ironic. There are too many examples of this powerful spiritual law at work in my life for me to share here...the above is just the most significant and life altering to date...And as hard to swallow as a 'Spiritual-sh*t-sandwich' can be...I truly believe that as a result of eating my share...I walk a little more humbly today ( and closer to Jesus) than I once did and that's a very good thing for everyone!
If you have a 'Spiritual-shit-sandwich' experience you'd like to share...I'D LOVE TO HEAR IT!
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Last year (2009) I became more aware of and interested in committing myself to the observance of Lent. After a previous Emerging Desert cohort discussion, I became even more compelled to find a place to officially begin the Lenten season. My friend Jamie knew I was interested in exploring the Labyrinth as a symbol of the Lenten journey. So, upon her suggestion, she and I and my pal Frances... went to the Episcopal Cathedral of Phoenix to participate in the Mass and imposition of ashes there...primarily because they have a ‘life-size’ replica of the Labyrinth from the Cathedral in Chartes France in their court yard. After arriving at the church, finding the Labyrinth was first on our agenda for the morning. Located in the courtyard, surrounded by a serene desert garden punctuated by simplistic modern glass and metal sculptures depicting traditional stations of the cross, the Labyrinth was almost unnoticeable until standing right on top of it.
I tend to have ‘romantic spiritual ideas"...like walking’ a labyrinth during Lent...Initially it’s easy for me to plan what I imagine will be ground-breaking spiritual learning opportunities I ‘need’ to have...until I am actually faced with the reality of doing it...then I panic or struggle with apathy. Standing at the entrance of the labyrinth, I felt both. I instantly became distracted by traffic noise, the light-rail coming and going...even the proximity of my friends who came to make the pilgrimage as well. But, the most invasive thought was that ‘someone’ might be ‘watching me’and maybe I’d mess up and do the Labyrinth ‘ass-backward’...so typical for me. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do or how to begin...? I felt awkward and silly. I had zero information on proper protocol involved with ‘labyrinth -walking’ if there even is such a thing ?!
After several minutes, I thought to open the book of common prayer I brought along, to the ‘Ash Wednesday’ entry; reading the meditation for the day out loud, I hesitantly stepped onto the brick pathway and cautiously began my Lenten journey. Now...the process of walking a labyrinth is in theory...really simple; follow a clearly marked path that meanders some what unpredictably towards the center. There is no way to get lost or stuck as long as you keep moving in a forward direction, you will eventually reach the destination. Easy! Yet somehow...only a few paces onto the winding pathway...I became panicked that I was NOT doing ‘it’ correctly. I worried that I had inadvertently missed a step or perhaps even retraced my steps unnecessarily. I imagined church staff or priests watching me from inside the Cathedral...shaking their heads in disdain. Several neurotic, unwelcome and what seemed to be random scattered thoughts cluttered my mind.
At some point along the way...I stopped to contemplate my surroundings...to ponder the process. When I resumed walking, I noticed both of my fellow Lenten sojourners had somehow stealthily passed me by, each on their own quest. For some weird reason this made me feel kind of frustrated and anxious...it bothered me that though I had initiated the process...somehow they were no doubt going to get to ‘the destination’ ahead of me! Interestingly, only a few minutes later...I was surprised to see those same friends walking towards me, but on what appeared to be a different path. We exchanged smiles and hugs as we passed. I noticed how closely I and my companions were to each other inside the Labyrinth at times and how difficult it was in those moments to discern who was ahead...and who was behind...Sometimes it seemed our paths would collide, then at that moment someone would come to one of the many internal hairpin turns and we’d instantly be traveling away from each other towards distant sides of the Labyrinth, making me wonder when we'd encounter one another while on this pilgrimage again?
More often though... I remember being extremely sensitive to the various times when ‘I’ came especially close to the center of the labyrinth, hugging the ‘outside edge’ of the inner most point of the destination...but at the same time...not really quite ‘there’. A few times...just when it seemed from my perspective I would momentarily reach the end of the journey...a 180-degree turn would take me all the way back to the outer most perimeter of the Labyrinth once again...with no way of discerning when I’d really truly arrive at the center.
The process of walking the Labyrinth took an unexpected amount of time...quickening my pace seemed to defeat the purpose of undergoing the journey to start with. Stopping along the way seemed counter productive as well, however, doing so offered opportunities to reflect and meditate...and to sort through all of those seemingly random and pesky thoughts I encountered throughout much of my experience. Quietly aware that my fellow pilgrims had reached the coveted destination in the very center of the Labyrinth,I began to wonder about the many invasive thoughts and ideas and their significance, if any, to what I was experiencing inside the Lenten Labyrinth. One-at-a-time the girls entered inward...each then sitting or kneeling in silence, reflecting on their own unique experiences no doubt. There was no cheering, high fives or knuckle bumps. Just quiet, humble contemplation.
Finally and almost by accident, I noticed that I too was nearing the end of my pilgrimage that dat... heading towards the very heart of the Labyrinth (a good few minutes behind the others that I had initially preceded) It was at that moment that I felt an illumination...an epiphany of sorts...deep in my spirit. I realized how obvious it all was. The confusing thoughts and images I encountered, struggled against and then dismissed as bizarre or disconnected were anything but random or lacking in meaning, instead, they were more like mile markers and road signs characterizing my real-life spiritual journey. They represented the exact issues and hang-ups I have encountered and continued to carry as baggage for legitimate reasons...or not, for most of my life as a Christian.
I started to understand quite well, how much the Labyrinth adventure that day mirrored my life and spiritual journey with Jesus up to that point. Not a linear trajectory of maturation always held up and esteemed in church institutions I was most familiar with...but a winding, complicated back and forth process that moved me (and others) towards deeper relationship with God at the center of all things. As I stepped into the middle rosette of the labyrinth...and rejoined my friends, I knelt, embracing my own journey and my own revelation in that place. My overwhelming sense at that moment was the need to repent of my self preoccupation, the obsession of measuring my performance and my distructive grasp for controling my circumstances and also, my compulsion to carry heavy unhelpful baggage with me for so long. I wondered if the Labyrinth had accomplished in me what it was designed to...despite my lack of understanding and expertise in it?
Later, at home, I researched The labyrinth...finding out only then it was ( and is still in some traditions) considered a compelling ancient symbol long used in the observation of the season of Lent. Ironically, one of its original intended purposes was to offer pilgrims who travel it, the opportunity to contemplate their lives and to repent of sinful and harmful self-focus. Following the twisting, turning paths, the pilgrim is constantly provided an actualization of making literal and symbolic changes in their life’s direction...turning them away from the old ways of thinking and functioning...sending them a whole new way. In so doing those on the labyrinth journey are drawn closer to the healer and center of all...GOD. This is the very nature of repentance. I certainly had no idea what to expect in this labyrinth exercise.I had no idea where to focus my eyes, ears, racing thoughts and heart. Yet. Despite that, I experienced revelation so unique, my personal issues and sickness became obvious to me by the end presenting an opportunity for me to change directions...to repent...and to embrace a new way of looking at my faith and myself while on my journey with Jesus.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I'm starting to feel a little bit like a 'Debbie Downer'...like I should start almost every blog I write with an apology or a warning. I feel like everything I write or want to write is angry, depressing and cynical.hmmmmm.
It is what it is I guess.
But, I really wanted this post to be different, inspiring and light. I originally began writing a blog piece about Advent around the end of November that I quickly put on the back burner so that I could marinate in 'seasonal anticipation' and be inspired by the ethereal weekly themes of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. I imagined that heavenly inspiration would eventually overcome and enrapture me...enabling me to write an amazingly and spiritually profound blog. The result? Big fat nothing.
This Christmas...I was ready, willing and able to have an 'experience', even if it was terror inducing like poor ol' Ebenezer Scrooge endured 150 Christmases ago. Today is December 30th and I am still waiting for an epiphany...something ...anything that would help me feel more 'connected' to God in a more tangible or palpable way...you know? I was hoping upon hope, even expecting...that if I made an conscious effort...God would "show-up" (like he is reportedly in the habit of doing at big seeker-friendly, evangelical, mega churches). I dreamed that would find myself feeling familiar 'old feelings' or experiencing God in more emotional ways that lately seem to be inexplicably lost or dead. I guess, I just want to really feel my faith again...something like being born-again, again.
When I left the seeker-friendly variety of church...I necessarily said good-bye to Christmas experiences with smoke machines, HD video and rousing rock-n-roll versions of "The Little Drummer Boy" performed on upside-down galvanized garbage cans in a "Stomp-esque" fashion...Certainly, if anything could capture the mystery and majesty of the season and put anyone in a spiritually receptive Christmas-y mood...it's that...Right? Well, to be honest, it was that for me for many years. Today however, my desire for that scene is G O N E...leaving me wanting something 'else' or other.
This Christmas season my wonderful community, Emerging Desert Cohort, collectively embraced the idea of celebrating Advent together, for-reals. We had many of the traditional and familiar elements including an 'official' Advent wreath, scripture reading, communion and conversation centered on the spiritual themes of the week...as well as a special story and craft for our children. I admit, it was pretty impressive for our little emerging group and huge step for us! Every week was unique and creative, reflecting the personalities of those that volunteered to lead us. I anticipated every single Sunday. I appreciated each unique celebration. I thoroughly enjoyed the lively discussions and the beautiful cohesiveness of our odd little group worshiping together in this more 'traditional' way.
The Emerging Desert Cohort Advent and Christmas celebration was packed full of all of the stuff I've 'craved' since leaving 'big church'. It was tactile, creative, intimate, traditional/emergent...as well as dialogue vs monologue driven. To top it off...Jimbo's special home-brewed beer was kegged and flowing for everyone to enjoy...what else could an unconventional Christian want or need to 'feel' spiritually intune with God and their community? SERIOUSLY...I wish I knew!
While I feel increasingly more connected to and dependant on my little emerging cohort...the connection to God 'thing' continues to evade me more than I really like to openly admit. I don't understand it other than to postulate that maybe I am romanticizing 'the old-days' like someone who continues to measure life by their long past high school glory days. Maybe I have unwittingly created expectations of my relationship with God based on my former spiritual glory days...leaving fewer options for God to 'show-up' or reveal Himself in more subtle and unconventional ways? Like 2000 years ago when God turned the world on it's head by being born a tiny baby in a boring town...surrounded by obscure shepherds. Maybe all of the years I spent 'wowed' and over stimulated by 'over the top' pop culture Christianity, has robbed me of my ability to sense God in pure, simple and nondescript ways...like in the love and support of my unique community, hearing the Nativity story read out loud to small children or lighting an Advent candle while meditating on themes of Hope...Peace...Joy and Love.
It must be possible for me to somehow rediscover God in these small things and simple practices common at Christmas and through out the year. I know He has worked in contexts like those for eons. Perhaps that is my Christmas epiphany? For too long, I have allowed my uber stylized and staunchly evangelical expectations and visions of spiritual grandeur to eclipse and limit God...who has been and 'hopefully' will continue to be present in the small...covert...and overlooked.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I have so many obvious blessings...it's ridiculous. For starters...I have an amazingly supportive husband, 4 brilliant and stunning daughters, many precious friends, both of my parents and my in-laws are healthy, active and invested in our lives...I have a lovely home, newer cars as well as a little bit of spending money...I truly do not lack one creature comfort. Yet, Rather that catalogue all of the more obvious things I am and should be thankful for...(there are many)...I want to share a few things that I am grateful for that I have found and identified more by accident, recovered under the layers of cynicism, despair, anger and doubt that I have wallowed in for nearly 2 years.
The last couple of years of my life have been a challenge for me emotionally and spiritually. My life has not followed the course I charted a few decades ago, certainly not an ideal situation for a type A control freak like me. If I were to judge my life by my previous christian-y standards...I would label where I now find myself as an epic failure. I had some pretty lofty ideas and expectations conceived and nursed for years in my 'fully-devoted' evangelical days that have completely crashed and burned outside the institutional Church. As painful as this season of loss has been, it needed to happen. Shedding some superficial fluff and 'me' centric idealism has helped me gain some much needed perspective on my life in relationship to the Kingdom of God. Before my slippery slope experience, I was only marginally aware...I think because my shiny sparkly faith, gianormous 'head' and personal ambition were in the way of 'having eyes to see'. I can say in this moment with honest conviction that I am thankful for the current shift in my life and the season of great pain that has come with it. As a result, my spiritual vision has improved, bringing Jesus and His Kingdom into greater focus. I'm learning to see again...and this is good.
In my previous spiritual life, I carefully constructed an environment for myself that made it impossible for me to be open to the ideas and 'otherness' of people not exactly like me. I approached every relationship and experience through a super sensitive evangelical filter, allowing me to dismiss the spiritual, intellectual and philosophical ideas of others, making me feel quite confident and powerful. Sometimes I'd overwhelm a threatening person with a clever apologetic argument and other times when feeling more provoked, I'd level a hostile attack, perhaps on their character. I rarely, if ever extended the courtesy of honestly listening to those who were alarmingly different from me...determining ahead of time that "there was no value in doing so."
Closing the door on my involvement in more traditional models of Christianity, specifically conservative evangelicalism, has allowed me the freedom to relax a little bit (I have a long way to go here) and intentionally expose myself to the ideas and philosophies of people very different from me. It's only just recently that I am able to truly regard people...to accept them and even love them...for who they are without feeling pressure to try to change or convert them. I am more able to honestly and openly listen to them like they matter...and even more, listen as if I had something I could possibly learn from them or their lives. Today, I am thankful that the painful reshaping season of my life is promoting a greater freedom and willingness for me have ears to hear.
The devastation and disappointment of watching years of purpose driven, name it claim it Christian belief-ism vaporize before my eyes, while at the same time grieving the loss of one of my dearest friends (who died of a malignant brain tumor several weeks after I turned '40')...pretty much crushed my spirit and most of my faith in anything. Up until then...I was just flirting with questions and doubts out on the slippery slope and the absolute terror it represented to me. Not long after Kelly died, my husband Jim and I were "asked to find another church home" by our pastor because we were rocking the boat and not "all-in" enough. Right then, what little was left of my faith and joy...drained out of me...and I began my dizzying descent on the slippery slope, catatonic...yet securely in the proverbial 'hand basket to hell'.
My intense feelings of fear, doubt and anger embarrassed and horrified me. I had little experience dealing with these ugly raw emotions especially in connection to my faith. I never needed to. Prior to the train wreck of my faith...I kept it carefully polished and very shiny. For me, there never seemed to be an appropriate time to feel anything other than self control, poise and blessed assurance. Fortunately...providentially? Jim and I stumbled upon an Emergence Christianity Cohort faith community just about the time I was hitting rock-bottom. This small community of self imposed exiles were living out their faith together in the trenches of a messy spirituality. They endured my pain and confusion and comforted me. They listened to my questions, first validating and then encouraging me and through their friendships and personal stories, they gave me something I thought I had lost forever...HOPE.
I heard a podcast recently by Rob Bell in which remarked that "unless we have experienced great pain or grief, we'll never have the capacity to experience great joy." This statement gives me incredible hope as I emerge from the darker side of my spiritual journey. I want to believe I've walked through the hardest part already. (I hope) I feel much less sorrow and rage now than I did two years ago. I see light looming on the horizon...I anticipate a coming season of great joy...and I am thankful for that.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Initially when I began thinking of my own journey and spiritual practice, it was easy to recall the things I was eager to be leaving behind within the traditional model of 'church'...Things like the routine, the single contributor driven monologue, the 'stained-glass-ceiling, name-brand banner waving, using 85% of the collective tithe to support infrastructure often with shocking exorbitance and being expected to invest practically all of my energy and personal resources into serving 'inside the church' while supporting the vision and slick marketing mantras of the leadership.
Similarly, it was like a breath of fresh air to contemplate all of the new and liberating forms of praxis available to explore and live out, simply as a result of venturing onto a path less traveled. A few of those being: honest dependency on the 'priesthood' of believers, consistent missional-focused living, intimacy in community, open and inclusive dialogue, not only welcoming doubt but 'embracing the questions' (that's for you Sarah G!) What was once believed to be 'wrong' and off limits can be reconsidered, explored and often claimed and kept...without needing to hide it; what was before a 'non-negotiable certainty', can be scrutinized, examined and purged (if necessary) sometimes with a shudder and an AMEN...without the fear of being shunned or labeled divisive or dangerous.
It sounds so easy when I hear myself say all of that or when I read a few tidy condensed paragraphs I've written summarizing the experience, as if it happens instantaneously. It doesn't. It's a process...a tedious process of living in constant 'tension' of one kind or another...which is a complete ass-kicker for person like me to come to terms with. My dear friend Jamie says I am a stereotypical product of modernism and dualistic thinking...tight-fistedly hanging on to a black or white...good or bad...right or wrong view of the world and others. I struggle with the need to be right...to be correct...wanting to claim emphatically that my way, my answers and my practice are 'the purest of ways' . This need to judge and categorize is part of my spiritual past and my biggest character flaw. It continues to effect how I see, hear and respond to anyone who remains invested in any system, ideology or way of practicing faith (or politics) that I have determined at best to be lacking and at worst completely depraved.
At one time, Christians outside the conservative norm freaked me out...I avoided them, argued with them and ultimately dismissed them, sometimes delicately and other times...not so much. Now I find myself on the opposite side of the fence, put-off...and irritated when confronted with anything from my former spiritual camp. For example, I practically roll my eyes when I'm invited to attend a women's function with 'purpose driven', 'captivating' or 'princess' anywhere in the event description. I panic and and make excuses when I'm asked to attend conferences or church services featuring key-note speakers whose messages I now find nauseating. And...when any conversation I'm engaged contains..." I was watching the 700CLUB or Joel Osteen today"...I seriously start looking for the door. Why is this? Why do I feel no matter what side of the fence I'm on...I'm on the important side...the side that understands and gets-it...or conversly, the side that deserves to be treated with mercy and understanding?
The tension I experienced when I first chose to leave the institutional church was brand new for me...I never expected my character and spirituality to be picked apart as a result of my changing convictions and ideas and from there, subjected to all varieties of judgement and condemnation by people who I considered to be my church family. Enduring that painful season in the early days of my metamorphosis...brought to mind several people I had treated with the same ugly behaviour...today I cynically refer to this 'karma-come-back' as " The Spiritual Shit Sandwich". This spiritual tension has always been palpable in my life...and, I have historically responded poorly to it.
Recently my friend Kathy Escobar wrote a blog about living well in the tension between faith and doubt...this statement of hers resonated with me and made me realize what I want to learn to embody and how much I want to be part of a community of believers who can live well in this tension not only among ourselves but with those who we find abrasive, difficult and fundamentally disagree with on every level...
..."people have a wide range of feelings, emotions & responses that shift and change over time and a beautiful gift that christian community can give to each other is the space to be wherever they are and trust that God is at work and doesn’t always need our two cents." ~ Kathy Escobar
If I really want to embody something different in how I practice my faith, beyond the obvious outward stuff like where and when I go to church, I need to learn how to better live with the understanding that our journey's and perspectives are unique....My ongoing struggle an often inability to live in and accept this constant tension needs to be infused with a healthy dose of humility as well as repentance (the process of actually turning away from a previous belief or behavior and doing something radically different)...manifesting an outward as well as inward demonstrative change. This idea should sound familiar...it's the keystone of the Gospel of The Kingdom of God...turning away from behaviors and practices, found to be shallow and missing the mark...and truly becoming fundamentally different...deep down at the core of your soul. I want to live in this kind of tension...but...I'm not exactly sure how to get there...
If you've had some break-throughs and success living in this kind of spiritual tension...I want to hear about it...Maybe your wisdom and experience will be just what I need to motivate me to grow and improve as well!