Posts Tagged "community"

HELP WANTED: A Village (or a Church?)

Posted on 1 Mar 2018 | 0 comments

Those of you who know me personally, you know I’m a huge advocate of the Church. Especially the Big, Wide, Spacious, Generous, all over the place, hot mess Church. I’ve spent my life in some form of ministry and have even done reconciliation work on personal and broader levels in helping people, churches, faiths, and organizations reconcile.

I believe in it. I think it’s amazing… when it’s done right. When it’s the “Household of God” like it’s supposed to be. And in Jewish tradition, that concept of household isn’t necessarily Mom, Dad, kids. It’s broader, more welcoming, and spacious, and it lingers. It lingers over meals, it snoops in your daily life. It comes crashing in the door after Shabbat lunch to talk about philosophy over a snifter of whiskey. It holds hands with you and sings with you in a group of 10 on the year anniversary of your loved one.

And Church… we have completely blown this one. I say this from love, from wanting to see this beautiful institution breathing life and love and hope into our world. We are watching a generation flee from our doors, and finding ourselves unable to figure out how to get them back. And we haven’t stopped to think about what could possibly be keeping them away.

Our family has left three church communities in the last 5 years: 1) we moved out of state, 2) it was a plant that wasn’t the right fit, 3) a community that failed to connect. In each circumstance, we tried to leave with grace, meeting with the leadership to convey our love and appreciation and desire to connect. We let people know what was going on, and there were no hard feelings. And yet, from those 3 communities, we have heard from only 8-10 people in the last 5 years. Of those? 1 was a roommate, 4 were pastoral staff, and 2 were friends long before (like a decade’s worth). After years of involvement with these people, despite attempts to connect after leaving, zero re-connection. Is it any wonder that people are leaving the church and not coming back? Especially if they are wondering if their presence ever really mattered or made a difference in the first place?

So here are three thoughts… Just three for now, because really – TL;DR.

1) We need Connection and Commitment valued more than Convenience

Living the real Jesus life is flipping hard. And I’m not just talking about thinking the right thoughts or believing impossible things. I’m talking about real-life commands like “love your enemy” or selling what you have to give to a brother in need, or giving up things that feel good or make you happy if they’re causing a brother or sister to “stumble.” I’m talking about all the “one anothers” or the fact that almost ALL of the “you” thoughts or commands in the New Testament are actually “Y’all” statements. And most of the time, when the writer is getting passionate, you can just hear the “all y’all best be…” coming out of the text. And over and over and over again, we are told to do life together. To be a village, to connect, to reach out. We are asked to not be passive receivers of God’s grace, mercy, and empowering love, but to reach out, to initiate. Love isn’t about being loved – although that’s part of it, it’s also about doing the hard thing and trying to talk to people who you know don’t like you. It’s about trying to commit to other people in your neighborhood, in your Church who are different and act like the crazy Auntie with the purple hair (yeah, that’s me, let’s not pretend).

Right now our Church has a convenience problem. Once people disappear, it’s out of sight, out of mind. I leave, and I say “please stay connected, after all we are neighbors, friends, spiritual family…” And I hear echoes and chirps for months. Imagine how someone who left in fear and loneliness and shame might respond if no one bothers to check up on them. Does it make them feel like they are a critical part of a community, or does it perhaps leave them feeling like they never should have been there in the first place? It’s one thing to be a place of belonging when we are present, but how much do we allow people to belong and be loved when they aren’t showing up on the Sunday? How do we show them that we’re not just connected or committed when it’s convenient, but that we actually want to invest in them in a meaningful way with them regardless? Yes, it’s more convenient to hang out with people who are like us. It’s more convenient to connect with people on a Sunday, and to commit to people who we see on a regular basis. But who ever said that gospel love was EASY? Or Convenient? All I see in there is that it’s supposed to flip our worlds on our heads. It’s supposed to change us and challenge us. I can remember a mentor pointing out someone in Dublin who drove me crazy, and she said, “Katie, this is God teaching you how to love the unlovable, and I want you to learn to love this person.” I was challenged, and I hated it. BUT, that person has come to be one of the most valuable people in my corner. They have become a trusted friend and a beloved cheerleader. We must begin to connect and commit to the people who aren’t convenient.

That being said…

2) We need Boundaries without being Brutal or Burnt Out

Do we need to be best friends with everyone? Oh gosh no. Please, please, please, learn healthy boundaries. Please set structures in place to safeguard your key relationships: your partner, your children, your 3, and your 12. Please set structures of self-care in place to ensure that you are becoming the best and most YOU you that you can be. Boundaries aren’t just desirable, they’re critical. But if the Church has a problem, it’s with healthy boundaries.

Heaven help us, we either set these ludicrous expectations (like the Pence rule) that are legalism, judgmental and fear-based, leaving us feeling disempowered, disqualified, or displaced, or we fly the other way and over compensate, burning ourselves and our families out. I’ve seen both. I’ve seen people who are gobsmacked that I’m having coffee with a beloved brother in a public place because they’re afraid of what people will say – even if both our spouses are happy and delighted to see us pursue a meaningful relationship component that they could never – and don’t want to – fill. I’ve seen people (and been one) who just gave until our family suffered, my health suffered, and my heart suffered.

Neither of these is desirable.

Often, when we lack boundaries for too long, when we try to implement them, it’s like clubbing one another over the head. We get so caught up in fear and control that we wind up creating a religion or legalistic structure that feels Brutal. They don’t feel like natural “stop” signs, but rather like someone strung up a rope between two trees, and you got flung off the back of your motorcycle when you were just running right along.

But we don’t want to burn out. So spend time as a community learning about and modeling healthy boundaries. Take a Sabbath and model it for your congregation, and don’t answer the phone. Let them WAIT until the next day. Turn off the email and phone. But don’t beat congregants up if you’re trying to make the switch. Boundaries are about what you are comfortable with and you making decisions for your own health, not about trying to control or change other people.


Boundary says – I’m taking my Sabbath on Mondays. I will reply to you on Tuesday or when I return to the office.

Brutal says – “Stop calling me on Mondays, stop attempting to get my attention, because it’s too distracting. I don’t feel like you’re listening to me that I’m saying you have to behave in a certain way.”

Burn out says – I want to take a Sabbath on Monday, but people keep calling me, and I don’t want to say no, because they need me. And I don’t know what to do, because I can’t remember the last time I had a day off.


Boundary says – I’m not comfortable having this conversation right now, but I do want to honor your need to be heard. Can we table this and reschedule the conversation for a time and place that we both can agree on?

Brutal says – I’m walking away, because I’m frustrated, and I’m going to ignore you until I feel better, then dump all my emotional response on you then. Or, I’m going to keep pushing this conversation forward until you engage with me the way I want you to.

Burn out says – I’m going to acquiesce to your desires because I don’t have the energy to fight this, but I’m going to replay this conversation over and over and over in my head filled with regret because I didn’t speak my own truth.

Ok? Making sense? Boundaries without being Brutal or Burnt Out

3) We need Compassion and Accountability without Condemnation and Accusation

Let me state this clearly from the very beginning. *You MUST earn the right to be heard.* Before you can speak one single word into another person’s life that will have any impact whatsoever, you must earn the right to speak into their lives. The Church has jumped into this model of point the finger, accuse, and condemn, and never really ask whether people want their opinion in the first place. And it totally pushes people away, people who otherwise would love the Accountability.

Storytime: In Ireland, I had a friend who was an atheist. A beloved friend, that I would sit and talk with for hours about life, love, the universe. He was wonderful, and didn’t mind that I was a Christian. We adored each other, and I had Compassion for him, for the struggles he went through, for the grief he suffered, for the changes in his life and career. He was one of my closest friends, and we talked about literally everything. One day he wants relationship advice. He is dating a few different girls and beginning to engage more physically with them. We talked about the ethics of monogamy vs the ethics of polyamory and how to honor all his partners with dignity and respect. We talked about how he could be more loving and compassionate towards them, rather than treating them like objects for his pleasure and satisfaction. I never once brought up the Bible, despite the fact that much of my advice came straight from the text. I never told him to stop dating, stop having sex, or anything else that was grounded in my own faith’s biblical mores, because he didn’t hold my same faith. It wouldn’t have mattered to him.

Later, after we had moved on from that conversation, he paused and asked why I hadn’t tried to talk religion or what my faith says about sex and relationships and whatever. And I said, “well, you don’t believe in that, so why would I? I wanted to offer compassion and accountability from a place where we could stand together.” And he asked me to continue to hold him accountable to the things we had talked about and to call him out when he wasn’t. Every thing I challenged him to do was biblical. Do you think that I would have had the same invitation had I started out with “you can’t have sex!”?

People in this era – especially our Xennials, Millennials, and emerging generations are desperate to be mentored and have accountability. I cannot tell you how much they want it and crave it and are desperate for it.

But it has to be earned. You have to show that you have compassion and that you have no agenda in your love of them before they will trust you enough to invite you into those sacred spaces to talk about them. Because they need to know that compassion and care come before your judgment and accusation.

Let’s remember… it is kindness that leads to teshuvah – to turning away from the darkness and into the glorious Light of Life.

So, Church… what do you think you can do today to be a better village?

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May We Never Lose Our Wonder

Posted on 17 Nov 2015 | 0 comments

Nabeel SyedWorld events in the last few weeks have given me cause to wonder. In both positive and negative ways. I’m naturally a reflective person, so any time events happen, my heart turns to mulling over ideas and trying to understand. It’s been heartbreaking to see the response to attacks of terror, especially from those who label themselves Christ-followers or Christians. The response of fear, hatred, anger and venom have reflected something that is very Anti-Christ. It’s completely against the Good News that we are supposed to carry. So, this morning, I just wanted to take a moment and wonder what would be different if we chose to live in a place of wonder. To wonder and reflect on those things that we need to be challenged by and work on, and to wonder and reflect on those things that are brilliant and stunning and beautiful and filled with love and goodness.

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Why I Left Facebook…for a little while

Posted on 18 Jun 2012 | 5 comments

Many of you probably didn’t even notice, or if you did, didn’t think much of it.
But I’ve been slowly distancing myself from Facebook.
I like to keep up with everyone, but at a certain point, it began to bring a lot of pain and frustration.
There were two main reasons:
1) Shiny, Perfectly Happy Lives
2) Nasty Incendiary Dehumanizing Comments

1) Shiny, Perfectly Happy Lives
I’m incredibly happy for the dozen or so women in my circle of friends who are pregnant right now. I’m excited about their futures, their children, all of it. I love them, so I celebrate with them.
But each post about each stage of their pregnancies – or the pregnancies of their friends, which seem to be shared regularly as well – is quite painful for me. Because we have also been trying, but having no success.
Some of them have done me the courtesy of joining with me in my journey, praying for me, giving me a personal call or message before the glorious announcements on FB. But most of them haven’t.
But what made it worse was some of the comments I received when I shared my hurt with others – “Get over it, be happy for them, it just takes time.” Or “Just because you’re having a hard time doesn’t mean you get to kill their joy.” The general consensus was that if I was hurting, it was because I was selfish and a bad person – that I should just suck it up, and pretend that everything was ok so that the other person wouldn’t feel awkward.
And 85% of the time, I’m content to rejoice with those who rejoice. But what ever happened to the other half of the equation? What happened to mourning with those who mourn?
Why shouldn’t someone feel awkward about making a broad impersonal pregnancy announcement to people, knowing that one in four women has suffered a miscarriage? That’s part of living in a society in which we care for one another, and share in one another’s burdens.
It’s like I’m shamed and guilty because I’m hurting – because it is difficult. Maybe I’m not the most gracious loser, but perhaps there is a space for gracious winners as well.
I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else, posting uber-happy reports without considering how others might find it.
But there is also this shame and stigma – especially around the area of infertility & miscarriage – that we don’t talk about and we don’t even have any language to understand or express what the pain is like. And society as a whole would much rather celebrate little babies than sit in the dust with those of us without. So perhaps those of us in pain need to be more honest about what we are experiencing. Perhaps we need to communicate more clearly our struggles and frustrations.
That’s what I’m trying to do a little bit here.
I know that many of my single friends feel the same way about weddings.
I know that people I know without jobs feel the same way about promotions.
I know that people in financial hardship don’t like seeing the posts about new purchases and vacations.
For every cause to celebrate, we have people in our community who are struggling with the opposite.
For every pregnancy, there is barrenness.
For each promotion, there is someone under the stress of a pink slip.
For those in flourishing, there are those in hardship.

But it is much easier on FB to just shine the happy light all the time. I’m pretty guilty of this as well. But perhaps our dialogue needs to remember that there are humans in our midst online. As a guy said in a video I posted earlier today – “insert a little humanity into our corner of the internet.”
I think it’s important to rejoice with those who rejoice – and I do it about 85% of the time. But I think I’d really appreciate it if sometimes people would remember to mourn with those who mourn. Sometimes, I would really love for my friends to come and sit with me in the dust – recognizing that this season isn’t as easy for me. Some of my friends are amazing at this. And I’m grateful for them.
I just ask that perhaps in the future we consider those things as well. Remember the people behind the posts.

2) Nasty Incendiary Dehumanizing

With the election coming up, it’s gotten worse, but it’s already been horrific. With dozens of different causes or protests or campaigns, the primary language of the people is slander. The things coming out of other people’s mouths are horrific and dehumanizing.
The Pro-Life people dehumanize the Planned Parenthood people, and then the rhetoric comes right back and nobody is really being ‘tolerant’ anymore.
The War on Women dehumanizes women, but then we dehumanize the male lawmakers who are perpetrating the injustice.
Democrats dehumanize the Republicans, and nasty tidbits get flung around like excrement.
My faith gets slandered, but it’s ok, because it’s ok to slander my faith these days. My friends justify it by saying “but it’s not *your* faith we’re criticizing” – but it is, because it’s my community, my tradition.
There are people behind these labels.
We go in nasty little circles, and have completely lost any sense of simply honor, dignity and respect for one another. The way that we say things to one another would never fly in person, but we don’t care, because we have to “win” the argument on Facebook.

I just can’t be part of these discussions anymore. It breaks my heart to see Christians crucifying non-believers online, while my liberal ‘tolerant’ friends crucify my faith. It hurts me to see men and women slinging hatred at each other instead of working together to find a solution. It is tragic that people with different economic ideas cannot work together and try to find common ground instead of demonizing those who disagree.

All in all, both reasons boil down to a recent deterioration of humanity online. And as a peace-builder, a peace-maker, someone who loves peace in all its forms and theological depth and complexity, I just cannot participate in it fully anymore.

I hope, if nothing else, that this can inspire you to think a bit more clearly and regularly about the people behind the posts. The men and women who are diverse and lovely. The ones who have rich lives that deserves our honor and respect – even if we disagree with them.

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Doing It Afraid 6: Repentance

Posted on 12 Jan 2012 | 0 comments

“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”
― Albert Einstein

This blog is actually more of a reflection on this blog by Julien Smith called “The Complete Guide to Snapping the @#$% Out of It

Most of us, when we think of repentance have some mental image which involves groveling, crying out, confessing horrific deeds.

And the New Year is normally the world-side season of this kind of repentance.

We talk about all our bad habits, our not-so-great habits, and the habits that we wish we had. We talk about eating right, exercising more, quitting smoking, reading more books, etc etc etc. And most of the time we really mean it. Even if we’re not people of faith, we normally see the New Year as an opportunity to start over, to start from scratch. But the point that Julien makes that I really love is that we never actually do just that.

We never actually START OVER. We don’t START from SCRATCH.

We think that if we just do our previously established failed behaviors ‘just a little bit harder’ – that will somehow *this time* translate into different results. And if we agree with Einstein (which I do), that’s insanity.

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Feeling Grateful?

Posted on 17 Dec 2011 | 0 comments

Over the past few months, I’ve had a number of guest posts emerge…

But the few over at Squidoo have been my favourites. They’re on gratitude and living lives that reflect gratitude more often.

So if you will, please make sure to go have a look-see. I’m quite proud of them, you know?

The series has been: Cultivating a Lifestyle of Gratitude

Post 1: Saying Grace

Post 2: Nightly Reflections

Post 3: Be An Encourager
And if you like them, please share the links! I’d love to see more people living out of a place of gratitude instead of worry. Blessings on you this holiday season and watch this space! More coming soon…

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Doing it Afraid 4: When the doing hurts

Posted on 30 Nov 2011 | 0 comments

It’s 4:26am in Los Angeles.
I’ve been “home” just about nine hours.
I can’t sleep, but that’s pretty normal for flying back in this direction.
I haven’t posted recently because the last two weeks have been 100% devoted to packing, shipping, and moving our lives back to the United States from Dublin. And those are just the practicalities.

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