Posts Tagged "identity"

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.

Examples:

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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The Hunt

Posted on 8 Nov 2011 | 4 comments

Well folks, here is the next installment of Emmeline, sponsored by NaNoWriMo. I hope to get back to my Holstee Manifesto Series once I’ve caught myself up with the novel. Hope you enjoy a bit of fiction this evening. Much love and warm fuzzies to all my readers.

As we approached the dragon, it stood its ground, barring our way. Derek placed his palm out in greeting, dragging me along behind him. I wasn’t precisely sure what the protocol was for meeting dragons, but I didn’t want to insult him by looking him in the eyes. So I kept my gaze downcast, even as it paced back and forth. Derek stopped, a bit confused.

“Lig, what’s the story?”

Apparently this dragon had a name. I didn’t like the way that it kept staring at me and snorting, however. And I’m guessing that Derek didn’t either.

“Derek, she is claimed.”

Derek looked at me directly, with a great deal of compassion in his eyes. “Emmie, I need you to answer this honestly, ok?”

“Sure, Derek.”

“Have you at any point in time, to your knowledge, made a bargain regarding your soul?”

“Are you talking like a Faustian soul sale? That’s ridiculous.”

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Doing It Afraid 2: This Is Your Life

Posted on 31 Oct 2011 | 0 comments

Image courtesy of Leland FranciscoWelcome to the first day of the rest of your life.

Are you ready for it?

It is, after all *your* life.

But what does that really mean?

One day, you will decide to wake up, and take ownership of your life. It will become your own. It won’t belong to anybody else, and no one else will be responsible for it. And this possibility is both liberating and terrifying.

Liberating, because the only person who will hold you accountable is yourself. You’ll begin to realize that your life isn’t about what other people want from you. You will begin to see that other people’s expectations really don’t have any bearing on your own expectations. When people try to tell you how to behave or believe, you can simply ignore them.  You begin to realize that you have the power of both Yes and No in your own hands. You get to decide just how much of your time, your passion, your talent, your treasure goes to other people. You can reclaim your own destiny.

Liberating, because you’ll have complete freedom to pursue the things that *you* want to pursue. You’ll be able to make your own decisions regarding the things you love and want to follow. You can begin to carve out your dream space and your own desires and hopes for your own living. You’ll begin to believe again.

Liberating, because nothing is now impossible for you. You will be taking charge and going forth with enormous ambition and desire and passion, right?

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Someday

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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There You Are

Posted on 27 Jul 2011 | 0 comments

From Mike Yaconelli’s Messy Spirituality:
Rest is the ultimate humiliation, because in order to rest we must admit we are not necessary, that the world can get along without us, that God’s work does not depend on us. Once we understand how unnecessary we are, only then might we find the right reasons to say yes. Only then might we find the right reasons to decide to be with Jesus instead of working for him.

I like to work. I like to *do* things. But sometimes I forget that the most important thing I can do is absolutely nothing. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I am not a machine.

I love this quote, because it reminds me that I don’t keep the world spinning. If I’m honest with myself, I realize that the splash I make in the pond of life isn’t really even that huge. It’s always the ripple effects that create the most impact. But have you ever noticed that it’s not necessarily the strength or the speed of the throw that creates the ripples? It’s a million different factors, including the angle, the gravitational pull, the stillness of the water.

If the water is raging and tossing, the ripple effect is negligible. It’s just one tiny bump in a sea of frothy madness. But if the water is still, a pebble can create an effect that goes on for ages.

Too often, I act as though the force of my throw will increase the ripple more than the stillness of the water. I allow my soul, my heart, my spirit to rage and toss – and when the Divine tosses anything good into that water, it goes wild, not really making any impact at all.

But when I rest…when I quiet myself down, and really pause in the midst of life to remember that it is the state of my heart that matters as much as the actions that create motion…those are the moments when the smallest stone will cause effects I could never dream of.

The last few days have been restful, restorative, rejuvenating. And I’m remembering again why I have been created to need rest. The Sabbath is a gift to me, not a burden.
Life as we know it...

I’m not responsible for the world. I’m responsible for me.
And when I’ve been busy, when I’ve been running crazy, these are the times when the Divine calls to me, celebrating my work; but also inviting me back into the Divine presence and rest. So, I think I’ll enter into it for a while, and allow myself to find peace, restoration, and fresh life.

Mark 6:30-31 (NIV)

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Hebrews 4:9-11a (NIV)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.

(Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.)
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A letter

Posted on 11 Jun 2010 | 0 comments

I wrote a letter today. And old-fashioned, pen-to-paper kind of letter. It started out as an exercise, merely to eradicate some of my own demons from the past. The plan: write a letter to someone who had corrupted my vision of art and beauty. But it turned into something a bit more. It turned into reflections on life, practice, and the reputation of the Church in today’s society. In my field, I engage with thousands of people who have been wounded by churches. And thousands more who have been wounded by people within those churches. The predominant complaint has been – I thought that Christians were supposed to be different! I don’t have any issues with Jesus, but I have loads of issues with his followers. There’s even a film with the title “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers“.
Christians that I know mostly fall into two camps. First, there’s the group that tend to be a bit volatile – they fulfil every stereotype that is splashed across the media. They tend to politic almost as religiously as they attend their Sunday services. Their lives and claims are earmarked with verbal violence and judgment. They tend to interpret the Bible literally and are relatively devoid of irony. Many of them even had significant issues with A.J. Jacobs and his experiment with The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. The second group tends to be on the apologetic side. Our favourite phrase is probably “I’m a Christian BUT…” And they fill in the blank with whatever phrase is necessary for that particular conversation. This is something I find myself saying on a regular basis. There are others who fall in the spectrum of these two extremes, of course.
It seems that something has gone significantly wrong with the Church if half of us have to apologize for who we are. But more than that, it’s a tragic thing when those of us apologizing are the ones cleaning up the messes of those who are the most vocal. And I think that’s why my letter this morning became such a rant of frustration and hurt. Because the person who did the damage will never have to face the consequences of his actions.
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