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In which I am gratefully disillusioned

GRATEFULLY DISILLUSIONED

Dear Pastor, leader, dear teacher, dear friend:

Do you remember how I used to call you the “Man of God?” I grew up believing that you  were better than us because surely you spent hours and hours in study and prayer and reflection on The Things of God. I learned to “touch not the Lord’s anointed” before I knew that that phrase even meant – all I knew was that it meant I shouldn’t criticize you, you were above us, our authority. You were my example in all things, the zenith of spirituality. I thought that you spoke for God and your answers were more important than my questions. I thought that pastors or leaders had to have their homes completely in order, be too holy for the rest of the stuff we all dealt with today. I revered your marriage and analyzed your parenting. I held you to impossible standards. Somehow, I thought – maybe because you taught me this, long ago, who remembers anymore? – that you were the Shepherd and I was the smelly, dumb, yet sometimes-adorable sheep.

Then the years began to unfold and one by one by one, those ideas I had about you? All dismantled. All broken. All revealed as charade or hypocrisy or addictions or sin or pride or deep sadness. And it hurt me terribly.

You can understand why that is for someone like me, why it was hard on me when you tumbled off of the pedestal I lovingly propped up for so many years. I’m rather embarrassed that I cried as hard as I did. I’m sorry now that I judged you as harshly as I did, that I cycled through the stages of grief especially anger and denial for your tragic displays of our shared humanity, because weren’t you supposed to be better than me, better than us all?

I was disillusioned. 

Now? I’m grateful to be disillusioned.

My friend, I no longer expect you to have it all together, to maintain a facade of performance and perfectionism that will eventually cripple you, your family and your followers. It’s okay that you’re a person.

I no longer look for you to deliver the message from the mountaintop for me. I like to be there myself, with the wind and the Holy Spirit in my hair.  I’ve also found God in the deepest valleys, driest deserts, and do you remember? I found you there, too. Hail fellow, well met.

Church doesn’t mean sitting in a pew anymore, listening to you talk like a high priest. It’s all of us, glory to God, a mismatched and gorgeous bride and something more besides, something holy in the living life together, the breaking of bread, pouring of wine, family, in the people of God gathered together then sent out.

It’s nice to be partners in this thing, now, isn’t it?

I no longer have expectations on you that I do not have on myself. We are all learning and growing, we are all travellers on a journey.

We are all engaged in holy work – the carpenter, the mama, the business person, the dad, the writer, the programmer – and we’re all anointed for our life, chosen. I value the work you do and I’m thankful for it. It’s just that I’m thankful for godly daycare providers, politicians, parents, labourers, advocates, missionaries, hockey players, and nurses. We are all anointed, we are all called and every part of this body is vital.

I no longer look to you as my shepherd. What a relief to you, I imagine!

No, I look to Jesus as my Shepherd. You can be my pastor, you can be my teacher, you can be my friend.

And this is freedom.

For both of us, do you see?

It’s freedom for the disillusioned because now we get to enjoy the richness of relationship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit without any intermediary or filter. I get to follow Jesus, not you. I get to be part of community that is rich and full. This flattened hierarchy thing that freaks so many people out? It’s actually pretty awesome.

This disillusionment pushed me away from revering you or heroes of the faith or mystics or doctrine purveyors or models or churches. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m still wanting to learn from all of you. But those stinging failures drove me to the true example, the true Shepherd, the true Father.

In this new world, I can embrace you as a true man – or woman, remember – after God’s own heart, flawed, moving forward as we all are towards our true renewed selves with open hearts to God.

Now, when I hear of you falling or a few skeletons in your closet, my heart is free to break for you and your own need for our Abba.

Now when I see one of us fall or stumble or struggle,  I can make my response this time all about you, to love you, to be there for you, no judgements, only grace and second chances - imagine that.

As disillusionment spreads – and clearly, it is spreading – I wonder if it spells freedom for you, leader.

If we were all disabused of our false notions regarding perfect leadership, you would be released from unrealistic pressure or expectations. We could see your gifts and callings as a blessing to be used in community instead of as an isolating boundary of “The Holy and The Rest of Us.”

You would be free to receive, too. We would come alongside one another, looking to Christ alone as the author and perfecter of our faith.

And when you struggle or stumble, you could be honest about it because who among us could ever throw the first stone at your precious face?

We would no longer be threatened by the fact that you also have questions and struggles. In fact, we could be a safe place for you to work through your thoughts.

We could welcome you, the “Man of God”, to the People of God.

Blessings on you, my brother, my sister, my friend. And thank you for all that you do, seen and unseen.

Gratefully yours,

Disillusioned

 

With thanks to The God Journey podcasts with Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings of LifeStream Ministries for the phrase “gratefully disillusioned.” This post originally appeared at Deeper Story.

 

Continue Reading · church, community · 31

In which this is for the ones who stay

I’m here beside you.

I’m here beside you: as we watch a steady stream of our children and our friends and our mentors walk out the doors of our buildings, the remains of their goodbye still in our ears. Their reasons for leaving church are complex. Sometimes you understand, other times it’s confusing. And it’s hard not to take it personally. When you love something, when you’ve given your life to something, it’s hard to watch someone else walk away. I get it. It’s hard to be the one left behind.

A few days ago, I wrote to the ones leaving. I believe every word of it still – I lived it.

And today I have something to say to the ones who stay: you are doing good and holy work. Thank you for staying.

I may have left The Evangelical Machine, the cultural/political movement of evangelicalism, but who are we kidding? I’m a child of the renewal movement, I teach Sunday school, we lead a home group, we love our pastors, I sit near the front and sing my heart out. I reclaimed my place here, my roots are deep.

I came home to you.

Thank you for ministering within imperfect structures. Thank you for laying down your life to teach Sunday school and chaperone youth lock-ins, for carpooling the seniors and vacuuming the vestry. Thank you for stocking the church library and making phone calls, for doing the mundane daily work that creates a community. Thank you for meeting with college girls for coffee. Thank you for showing up when we get married and when we have our babies and when we are sick and when we are grieving. When we die, thank you for holding our families close.

Thank you for staying put in slow-to-change structures and movements. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for taking a long and a high view of time, for waiting it out. You have the thankless job of elder boards and deacon elections, church constitutions and consensus building within community. This is not the work for the faint of heart.

Thank you for the all the work you do – seen and unseen.

Thank you for your commitment and your discipline, for the ways that you put others before yourself. Thank you for doing the work of the ministry, unthanked, often misunderstood, the convenient scapegoat at times.

You aren’t better than the ones who go, but you aren’t foolish or blind or unconcerned or uneducated or unthinking. I know this. You have weighed your choices, more than anyone will know. You chose this, you choose this, and you will keep choosing this.

I know some of us are meant to go, some are meant to stay, and most of us do a bit of both in our lifetimes.

(I want to tell everybody to relax. After all, it’s all going to work out in the end. Let people live their lives. Tend to your own knitting. And won’t we all find that we’ve seen through a glass darkly?)

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. But he lives and moves and has his being among the evangelicals, too. 

I hope you wrestle now. I hope we all wrestle. I hope we look deep into our hearts and sift through our theology, our methodology, our praxis, our ecclesiology, all of it. I hope we get angry and we say true things. I hope we push back against celebrity and consumerism, I hope we live into our birthright as a prophetic outpost for the Kingdom. I hope we get our toes stepped on and we forgive. I hope we become open-hearted and open-armed. I hope we are known as the ones who love.

Be strong and courageous.

I hope we change. I hope we grow. Let this be a time of reckoning perhaps, a time of soul-searching. I hope we push against the darkness and let the light in and breathe into the kingdom come. I hope we become a refuge for the weary and the pilgrim, for the child and the aged, for the strong-too-long and may we all live like we are loved.

I pray we all become a bit more inclined to listen, to pray, to wait.

I went for a walk in the wilderness for many years, and I still love it out there. I still like the fresh wind in my hair. I go for a walk every now and again, I hear God clearly in the wild spaces. I’ve always liked a little room to breathe. But I came home. I always come home.

I love you, Church. I love you in all the places I find you – cathedrals and living rooms, monasteries and megachurches, school gymnasiums and warehouses.

I have loved you and I will always love you. You’ve been the steady constant of my life, my witness and my guide. I see you and I think you’re beautiful for your very mess and imperfections and frustrations. Family, yes, we are.

We are loved and we are free.

Related:

In which I think community is worth intention, or why I still “go to church”

In which I am still hopeful

In which you gather at the homemade altar

 

 

Continue Reading · church, community · 76

In which this is for the ones leaving evangelicalism

For the ones (1)

I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.

Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.

But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.

I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.

In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.

My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.

Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.

I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.

Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.

Your pet evangelical gate-keeper isn’t the sole arbitrator of the Christian faith: there is more complexity and beauty and diversity of voices and experiences within followers of the Way than you know. Remember, your view of Christians, your personal experience with Christians is rather small sample size: there are a lot more of us out here than you might think. A lot of us on the other side of that faith shift, eschewing labels and fear-tactics, boundary markers and tribalist thinking.

There are a lot of us out here who aren’t evangelical theologically or politically. There are those of us who are evangelical perhaps in our theology still (I think I am but who can keep track these days of the master list we’re supposed to be checking?) while separating from evangelicalism culturally or politically.

I’m someone who believes that we are in the midst of major shift within the Church – what Phyllis Tickle calls a “rummage sale” – similar to the Great Schism, and the Reformation. The Church is sorting and casting off, renewing and re-establishing in the postmodern age and this is a good thing. The old will remain – it always does – but something new is being born, too. If it is being born in the Church, it is first being born in the hearts and minds and lives of us, the Body.

Maybe evangelicalism as we understand it doesn’t need our defense anymore: maybe we can open our fist, lay down our weapons for the movement or the ideology or the powerful, and simply walk away.

It was helpful when it was helpful. Now, perhaps, it is not. Evangelicalism doesn’t get our loyalty: that fidelity is for our Jesus.

Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.

Care for the new life being born in you with tenderness. It will be tempting to take all the baggage with you – to bring the habits or language or rules with you. That’s okay. You might need to be angry for a while. That’s okay. You might need to stop reading your approved-translation-of-the-Bible and only find Scripture in The Message. That’s okay. You might need to stop praying the way you were taught and learn to pray as you work, as you make love, as you walk at night. That’s okay.

I’m not afraid for you: you are held.  You are loved and you are free. I am hopeful for you.

Nothing has been lost that will not be restored. Be patient and kind with yourself. New life doesn’t come overnight especially after the soil of your life and heart has been burnt down and razed and covered in salt.

Don’t worry about the “should-do” stuff anymore. It might help to cocoon away for a while, far from the performances or the structures or even the habits or thinkers that bring you pain. The Holy Spirit isn’t restricted to only meeting with you in a one-hour-quiet-time or an official 501-3(c) tax approved church building.

Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people.  God is much bigger, wilder, generous, more wonderful than you imagined.

The funny thing for me is that on the other side of the wilderness, I found myself reclaiming it all – my tradition, the habits, the language. Your path may lead you elsewhere, but I’m back where I began with new eyes, a new heart, a new mind, a new life, and a wry smile.

Now, instead of being an evangelical or whatever label you preferred, perhaps you can simply be a disciple, a pilgrim, out on The Way, following in the footsteps of the man from Nazareth.

You aren’t condemned to wander forever. Remember now: after the wilderness comes deliverance.

 

Related:

In which you’re a pioneer

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind

Lean Into It

Hope is a radical act of faith

 

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless, journey · 153

In which the Spirit inhabits the praises of the people

image source

I stand in the front row of the church – a few dozen of us in a community centre – clapping along to the repetitive and simple praise choruses about the exodus of Israel or the blood of Jesus or repeated proclamation of hosanna. The horse and the rider is thrown into the sea! Three tambourines in a small room make quite a racket. The ladies wave banners, the children dance. (Praise songs are fast, you see, and worship songs are slow, that’s why this part of a Sunday service is called Praise AND Worship.)  I’m overly earnest even for a seven-year-old so I dance when everyone else dances, I know all the words. I throw my skinny child arms into the sky and sing loudly: as the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you. 

***

I’m sitting on the warm dirt in front of a campfire in Kananaskis Country, I’m surrounded by my friends. I’m leaning back against a boy’s legs, his hand is tracing circles on the back of my neck. We’re all tanned and we smell like sunshine. We are staring into the fire or up into the night sky. One guy is strumming a guitar quietly, without words. My breath is slow, I feel held by the stars and by the Spirit.

***

I’m standing in a gigantic stadium, thousands of people surrounding me. The music is loud, deafening. It’s dazzling – all of this incredible music, all of the noise, all of the anthems. We sing songs of the victorious, the conquering, we are being rallied to a cause greater than ourselves. I am singing along. I feel like crying, feel like jumping, feel like running. I feel alive, every cell thrumming with passion. Look at us, so young and beautiful and blind, testifying to love in three part harmony.

***

The liturgy of the charismatic evangelicals is empty to me now. Dead religion perhaps. Every prayer begins with Father, we just….

Father, I just can’t hear you here anymore. Maybe I never did.

***

I’m laying flat on my back beside a stream, holding hands with the boy I think I’m going to marry. We aren’t talking anymore. My mouth is still filled with his kisses, but my body feels like prayer.

***

I’m standing in my side-yard in Texas, smoking a cigarette and praying in tongues. I’m married to a pastor and every Sunday I want to skip church. I’ll listen to k.d. lang and long for home, I don’t know what to call this season of my life but someday I will know that I was grieving, I was growing, I was evolving. I was worshipping, I was abiding, I was a mess but I was honest at last.

***

I’m heavily pregnant and kneeling at the altar rail in the cathedral. When I couldn’t find my way back to Jesus through the clutter of praise and worship, I found him in the silence.

I light a candle and bow my head. The only sound is the faint noise of traffic from the urban rush and go just outside the narthex. I’m alone here. No one comes here.

I’m alone and I find myself humming, as the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee. And I raise my hands up in the air and the baby kicks and I cry and cry and cry with relief and longing.

Oh, here you are. I thought I’d lost you. I thought I’d never feel this again.

***

I’m working in an office just down the hall from the multi-purpose room filled with the bravest women I know in my real life. I listen to these beautiful women sing about being redeemed, I know their stories, there is a long road ahead still, and I lay my head down on the cool white Ikea desk and breathe in their faith.

***

I’m standing in church with a toddler on my hip, more children at my feet. I’m distracted, always distracted, during the singing because my life is full of the needs of everyone else. I pass the baby to my husband, hoist a too-big boy up into my arms and sing the songs into his hair. My hands aren’t in the air, my hands are filled with meeting a need. We are the happy-clappy ones singing the Vineyard songs, and I’m so happy I might cry.

***

I’m standing under a canvas roof in the tent city of Port au Prince after the earthquake. Then sings my soul, we cry out, my Saviour God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art. There is a little girl in a blue gingham dress trimmed in printed strawberries and she is singing. She was sweeping a dirt floor just a few moments ago. I’m out of place but my hands are open.

***

I’m holding a sleepy child, my great ministry. We rock slowly in the midnight hours. We are silent together, a small head pressed up against my breast, listening to my heart beat. I’ve wrapped us in a quilt, the rocker creaks, and a small hoarse voice says, “Mumma, will you sing the song?” I begin to whisper-sing into the darkness: as the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee. You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship thee.

I think, Other children hear songs about mockingbirds, I really need to learn those songs one of these days. The old praise-and-worship songs are the cradle songs of the tinies. When he finally sleeps, I lay him in his bed and stand alone again. I light a candle in the darkness, for the silence, for the other mothers still awake. I stand for a moment. Then I blow it out and go to bed.

***

I catch sight of a woman sitting in the front row of church. She’s old, very old, and she sits in her Sunday clothes and her small hands are raised up in the air, barely. An old Keith Green song. No one behind her would know her hands were up, but I can see her singing quietly with her fists unclenched.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, journey · 32