Posts Tagged "culture"

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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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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Posted on 30 Sep 2011 | 3 comments

There’s a smell and a sound to it.

The chalky aroma of pancake make-up and slightly singed hair from curling irons.
The robust odor of people sweating under intense lights.
Slight decay and decades old musty mildew from ancient costumes.
From behind the curtain, the gentle murmur of hundreds of voices whispering in the dimly lit auditorium.
Young ladies and gentlemen humming their scales in warm-ups.
Consonants clicking and popping with various rhymes and verbal gymnastics.
The squeak and grinding of gears and sets.
And then the moment arrives. Instruments tune, a hush falls, and the whisper of the curtain drawing itself open to an overture.

I loved every minute of every show. From the three hours of preparation before to the hours afterwards. Fine tuning a fantasy until it came to life so realistically that the line between truth and fiction was blurred. I loved the auditions and the rehearsals, the endless hours painting and hanging lights and designing. I loved the theater. I loved it in a way that I never could describe or portray accurately enough.
The great craftsmen of musical theater had a gift for bringing the human experience to life. In some of my favorites, the very darkest shadows of the soul came to life. Carousel – the pain and twisted joy of an abusive marriage. West Side Story – gang violence and falling in love in an urban jungle despite the odds. Phantom of the Opera – sacrificing light for the sake of fame while watching your mentor crumble into insanity because of deformity. Les Miserables – war, vengeance, and a young mother abandoning her child. Even the Disney animated musicals from the 90s had this ability to capture the very essence of human existence. They told the simple truth that life is not fair, it is often ugly, but it is our Spirit that trumps those dark places. Light can always penetrate the darkness, and there is always a blessing to be found in love – however tragic it may be.

I miss it.

I can’t even say how much I miss it. I sing along to my favorite musicals, but it almost hurts to put the music in my playlists. When I hear the beginning bars of the Carousel waltz, my heart breaks for never having had a chance to sing those songs for an audience. When I hear “There’s a Place for Us,” one of my only regrets is that I never got to play Maria on stage.
That was my dream for the longest time. Playing Maria on Broadway. And only slightly less so? Singing as the voice for a Disney musical.
But times have changed. I’m older, I never made it in ‘the biz’ because I wasn’t splashy enough, wasn’t skinny enough, wasn’t *whatever* enough to cut it.
I never believed I would ever be enough to sing “I Feel Pretty” on the big stage.
But I think the beautiful thing about nostalgia, about hindsight and learning who I am… I know that feeling pretty isn’t about what others think about me. It’s about who I’m designed to be. The person that I was created to be. I was designed with a vision and a purpose. My dreams have significance and meaning. And I may never play Maria on Broadway, but I may just audition for some community theater when I return to the USA.
I may never be the image of a starlet that the world tells me I have to be in order to make it.
But I’m in the image of something far greater. Something that spoke worlds into being and whispers life into my own dreams. The music from West Side Story will never stop moving me, inspiring me, leading me to tears. And the truths in the lyrics will always rattle my sense of purpose:
There’s a place for us, a time and a place for us.
Hold my hand and we’re halfway there.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.
Somehow, someday, somewhere

I’m taking time to learn how to follow the dreams that I have and to lead others into the hearts of their own. I may never stand on stage again, but I just might chase that dream someday. I’m consciously deciding each day to live and believe that I am more than enough. Whether I’m overweight or short, or not dressed properly.
I am precisely where I need to be.
Hold my hand and I’ll take you there…

What dreams have you let go as you’ve gotten older? Do you ever have nostalgia or longing for them?
Do you dwell on all the ways you’re not ‘enough’ or do you allow yourself to be perfect exactly where you are?

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Curioser Things Have Happened

Posted on 7 Jan 2011 | 0 comments

We live in the idle world of the everyday, praying for something more, something meaningful for which to live. And when those things don’t come, we always hold onto the hope that someday they will appear. But do they? There is always hope, but sometimes that hope seems so distant and so unlikely.
We find something, someone to cling to. They give us hope in this dark, dreary world, where war is always just around the corner and fear is a part of our daily lives. We listen to announcements about curfews and curses. We spend half our lives in pursuit of a goal that will never satisfy. Until we, like the precious money we so covet, are completely spent. We lose our emotions, our willingness, our courage.

And I still want to get hurt.

Because I was willing to be vulnerable and to trust my hope.
Because I was willing to open the floodgates and invite someone else in.
Because I wanted something more.
I knew deep down inside that the pain and anguish that I would inevitably feel would dissipate to be replaced with strength. Nothing loved is ever lost or perished. I will not allow myself to live in fear of pain. I will not allow myself the luxury of regret.

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Physicality-Locality Problems

Posted on 6 Jan 2011 | 3 comments

Have you noticed that we don’t really have time or patience anymore? People, I mean. In general. We run ourselves ragged, exhausted. But at the same time, we crave the burnout. We crave the incessant busy-ness of our worlds. We thrive on drama because it gives us something to talk about. We can all be good conversationalists as long as we have something dramatic, bizarre, or strange going on. We have lost the art of making simple, meaningful conversation.
Somehow we have changed. Unless we’re hipsters or armchair philosophers sitting around drinking our particularly particular beverages and pontificating broadly about the world’s ills, few of us take the time to engage in thorough-going intellectually stimulating conversation. Discussions about politics dribble into ‘he-said-she-said’ criticism and blame for all the world’s problems. If we even acknowledge world affairs, it’s only to talk about which side we’re on. Faith, history, philosophy, art, and music have become politically incorrect. They have become taboo by nature of their requirements. They require tension and doubt and willingness to be wrong. It’s rare today to find a conversation partner without their iPhones or tablets. The beauty and mystery of the mind is losing sway as cultural memory drowns softly and swiftly in a sea of technological advances.

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Wednesdays and Velvet Elvis

Posted on 31 Aug 2010 | 1 comment

A Velvet Elvis hung on the wall. Next to a black velvet sunset. Beneath it sat a bright orange couch which I had fallen asleep on numerous times. This was my refuge, my safe place. It was public, so nothing could happen to me here. I was surrounded by those who loved me and would protect me at any cost. And once or twice a week, they would let me sing.
You walked into this place, and you felt a bustling sense of home. It didn’t seem to know its purpose, yet it seemed to be fulfilling it all the same. Tables out front had chairs filled with people, one hand casually drawing lit cigarettes to their mouths, ashtrays overflowing. The mugs steamed on the tabletop, decorated with drizzles of chocolate, swirls of whipped cream.
My chocolate drizzle was always the same. A treble clef. He said it was because I sang like an angel. No one ever really commented on my guitar-playing, but then again, I think the saying goes… “if you can’t say anything nice…”
And some nights, groups of us would laugh and dance. Or we would sit in the small pedestrian alleyway that led to the bathrooms. We would drum and we would sing, and our lives were rich and bohemian. Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love. We had it all.
When it closed forever, it sold everything. Including the Velvet Elvis.
I bought the velvet sunset. It reminded me of safe places, love and beauty.
And when the doors closed for the very last time, I walked down Main Street completely at a loss. Knowing that the bohemian girl was going to go into hibernation, and I didn’t know if she would ever return.

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