Posts Tagged "grace"

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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To the Young Woman in the Impossible Situation

Posted on 10 Aug 2011 | 1 comment

Sometimes the world closes in. There’s darkness and despair. A spark of life only seems like a painful burn in the silence. There is so little light and sometimes that light is more like the tracers you see behind your eyelids on a bright day. There one moment, drifting away the next. And you’re left to choose between two horrible things. You can’t see a way of escape.
You want to choose life – but you don’t feel as if you have any life to choose.
And you might not want to right now. Maybe where you are feels safe, it’s known. In your mind, in your heart, you believe that you are precisely where you deserve to be. It’s your very own fault that you stand in the midst of this sea of discontent and unquiet.
Maybe you made bad decisions in the past. You lashed out when you wanted to draw yourself in. Maybe you chased after joy in the small immediate moments, regardless of the cost, because you didn’t believe that the deeper joy was yours to grasp or run to. Maybe you believe deep down that this is the very best that you could hope for.

And it’s not really that bad, after all.

There are moments when you hear your name whispered and it’s like light filtering through the dust and darkness of the closet of your soul. And then there are the fleeting moments of contentment or pleasure that send signals of life through you. And you remember for just a moment what life could be like or have just a moment where everything goes precisely right.

Until it doesn’t…

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When the North Winds Blow

Posted on 23 Sep 2010 | 0 comments

Image by Idea go

There’s a chill in the air tonight. The north wind is blowing. It streams down across the harbour and rattles the wind chimes on the neighbour’s balcony. The thin strand of a leafy vine trails down from above, swirling in the air. The sounds on a night like tonight leave me homesick. Not for a place, but for a time. A time when I held Hershey’s chocolate syrup in one hand, a glass in the other. My mum or dad would help me pour the syrup into the glass, one finger, two fingers. Then, the addition of ice-cold milk. As it hit the chocolate, it would dislocate small strands that would slide up along the inside of the glass. Then, teaspoon in hand, we would stir together, scraping the spoon along the sides to catch every last bit of the darkness. It would swirl into a sweet, chocolate treat. Every time it rained.

I’m older now. And the wind is howling. The rain streams past the orange globes of light that illuminate the plate-glass wall of my living room. The wind means that the rain doesn’t fall down, but flurries against the light, like tiny insects striving to be free. The wind traps them. I hold a glass of wine instead of chocolate milk.

And I long for a different time.

A time when chocolate milk was enough.

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Expecting the Unexpected: Luke 1:26-38

Posted on 6 May 2010 | 0 comments

You can read Luke 1:26-38 here

I’m still not sure why people use the word ‘expecting’ when talking about pregnancy. I know that some of it is societal politeness. It’s true, it does sound a bit better than saying “yeah, she’s preggers.” But honestly, the vagueness of the term disturbs me a bit. Expecting what, exactly? Expecting joy, laughter, pain, sorrow, or perhaps a new financial disaster? I use the word expecting to talk about something I have relative certainty about – I expect that the sun will rise tomorrow. I expect the pedestrian crossing light to turn green when I hit the button (even if I have to punch it about 35 times to achieve that result.) I even expect certain levels of courtesy and respect and care from people I know. But with a baby on the way, what is there to expect with any degree of confidence? Everyone I know has a different story

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Unfulfilled Promises, Silence and Glory

Posted on 1 Mar 2010 | 0 comments

Based on the ancient doctor Luke’s telling of the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus:
Read the ancient text here

In this text in Luke, we have the Transfiguration. At first glance, it seems like a simple tale of Jesus’ glory revealed. But as I was trying to read more closely, I noticed a few things.
First, Moses and Elijah don’t just appear to cheer Jesus on. God does that himself a few verses later. Verse 31 talks about an Exodus and fulfillment. Considering that Luke puts this story between two stories about his prediction about his death, this makes a great deal of sense. Because Moses and Elijah are probably the best two people that God could have sent to Jesus to help him understand his mission there.
Moses – the son of unfulfilled promises and Elijah – the son of silence and glory…

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