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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I Believe In Us

Posted on 2 Jun 2017 | 0 comments

I believe in us.
I mean that. The last 9 months have felt like a train wreck for a number of those in my circles. People have felt threatened – have experienced personal violence and attacks because of the current political climate. We’ve watched the violence and hatred increase, and it seems like all of the most disgusting and vile things in our country are coming to the light like an infestation of cockroaches. I have never been more astonished by what I’ve seen in the political arena than I have been since November.
And yet…
I believe in us.
I don’t think it’s about Making America Great Again – because we already are pretty great. And I definitely don’t think it should be America First – because we have so much, and are already at the top, and Jesus tells us that the first should be last and the last should be first. I think those are inherently flawed and self-centered ideologies that are bringing to light the base selfishness and individualism of our culture.
And yet…
I believe in us.
In high school, I studied the Vietnam Era extensively – I was fascinated by the turmoil of our nation, heart-wrecked by the senseless violence and the death of a generation in a war that seemingly had no point… and which in all compelling senses of the word, we lost. I remember sitting in class, and feeling my heart transform to pacifism as we watched the collateral damage in a post-Iraq War setting. And I read more than I imagined possible on the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement. I began to understand that our country makes incredible leaps forward and then hits the snap-back of progress too quickly, because our people are good, but selfish – it’s built into our rugged individualism and the belief that we pulled ourselves up by our own boot straps. I remember being astonished at the violence that our people were capable of as I read about the brutality of white supremacists, and read Takaki’s A Different Mirror to learn about the history of those on the underside of the spotlight of our textbooks. But I saw the movement forward out of those troubled times. Even in the tail end of the Cold War, I saw the wall come down and hope begin to shine in the eyes of people that their children wouldn’t be under threat of nuclear extinction anymore. We are facing that threat once again in our world – not least from our own administration.
And yet…
I believe in us.
In grad school, I studied WW2 in what seemed like the year of the Sho’ah. I was immersed in the literature of Christians and ideologues who rationalized away the rampant anti-Semitism that provided a fertile playground for Hitler to rise and the Third Reich to thrive. I learned about the way that fascists multiply like mushrooms in the dark, fetid environment of fear and antipathy. And I dwelt in the realm of peace-building and hope, even as I was stoned in Palestine, and struck by the violence and despair on my visit to Israel. I read up on the McCarthy era, and the tribunals, and then the rise of the Religious Right and its peculiar orientation towards racism and more fear. And I have read about the worst in humanity. And honestly, as any historian will tell you, we are replicating that dank, dark, fetid environment of antipathy and fear that provide fertile ground for fascism and violence.
And yet…
I believe in us.
We’re looking at a very real ecological apocalypse, just as it seemed we were in the 80s and 90s with horrific pollution and air quality that left thousands battling respiratory conditions and illness. And now we are removing those very ecological protections and withdrawing ourselves from a world-wide endeavor to protect this beautiful planet that we live on.
And yet…
I believe in us.
I was driving the other day with my daughter, and the song “This Land is Your Land” came on my radio station. I was struck by the greatness of this song, as hippie-dippie as some of you may find it. Because from sea to shining sea, we belong to each other. We survived the McCarthy Era. We decided enough was enough. We survived the Vietnam Era and made policy changes to protect our people. We changed our ways and began a process of nuclear disarmament. We moved forward. We moved towards each other.
I look around me at a generation of young people (yes, those continually cursed and shamed Millennials) who are literally glistening with hope and desire for authenticity and community. Who are building bridges when others built fences. I am looking at people in the older generation who are changing their ways, owning their own racism and bigotry and trying to be better. I am watching a movement of millions of people willing to fight for a Brand New Congress or the Move To Amend. I am watching people refuse to allow fear and hatred to win – and even give their lives, saying “Tell everyone on this train that I love them.”
I believe in us.
I am watching God do a new thing as the infestation is brought to light so that the Good in the earth can rise up and bring the Tikkun Olam that is so desperately needed.
I don’t think our government is heading in necessarily a healthy or helpful direction – and I know many of you in the UK feel the same way. But fundamentally, at the core, I see the good in you. And I can see the good in the people who think that they are protecting themselves and their loved ones – even as they place their faith in the Kingdom of Fear rather than the Kingdom of Heaven and Shalom.
But I believe in us.
We have found our way in the darkness before, and there are beautiful people trying to lead us out, who are trying to move us back towards faith and hope and love.
There are those who have a compass of hope and light and love who are guiding us forward – if we can only find them and listen to them with humility and hope.
I believe in us.
Friends, as dodgy as it feels, and as much as you might feel inclined to hate those “on the other side” or hold them in contempt, remember that this fuels the wrong spirit. We will never move out of the darkness until we acknowledge the darkness that we each carry and commit to bringing it into the light to be restored with life and love.
Not only do I believe in us…
In our capacity to build, to bloom, to nurture, to restore, to bring life back to these broken cities and lives, in our ability to thrive in community and create a different world for our children.
But I believe in you.
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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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