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Confessions

Pride is a tricky thing, it makes liars out of us. If we don’t ever admit to our stumbles or our failings, our weaknesses and struggles, then how will we know when we’ve found our people?

I limped back to my community this week. It’s been a long year filled with work and travel, unblogged challenges and changes. In the push to finish this book before the baby arrived and roughly seventeen other complications over the past year for us, we haven’t been as present or involved at our church as usual, particularly over the past couple of months.

I’ve been ashamed of this, feeling as if I’ve sacrificed my local life to just keep swimming. What use is all this thinking about church and community (or for that matter, any of it – justice, beauty, mercy, grace) if we’re not actively involved in living it out in our real lives?

I needed to sing out ahead of my exhaustion so I did. I’m interrupted a million times in church – three tinies will do that to a woman – but I keep circling back, keep jumping back into worship, refocusing again and again and again. I need to hear my own voice singing promises. And I need to be with the ones I’ve chosen as my people.

We hadn’t been at church since before Christmas. My friends met me with hugs and, of course, they asked, How are you doing?

And my pride wanted to say that I was fine! great! never better! living the dream! blessed and highly favoured! (<—old school Pentecostal)

Instead, it was the craziest thing. I cried every time they innocently asked how I was doing. And I made myself say it, out loud: I’m not fine. I’m not okay. Yes, you’re right, I’m exhausted. I’m just so so so tired. I miss my life sometimes. I could use your prayers.

Forget dignity, I need restoration.

Forget pride, I need the prayers of the people who like us.

Forget anonymity, I need to be known even in these moments of emptiness and need.

Church is one of my safe places now. I never would have imagined saying that a few years ago but it’s true. It’s the place I can go when I am the reluctantly needy one. My friends promised prayers, a few even checked on me during the week here and there. I was met with hugs and tenderness, with kindness. It wasn’t much really. Maybe my friends would say it wasn’t a big deal at all, but it was enough for me. I felt seen, I felt like someone who knows me actually cared, I felt their compassion. This is more than enough.

One friend talked to me about arranging for a few meals to brought to us after the baby is born. I wanted to say, No, no, we’re fine, we don’t need anything. I think she saw right through my need to be independent, and she looked me dead in the eye: Sarah, you need to do this. You need to let people bless you. So I said yes, that would be wonderful. Please put me down on the list, yes, bring me food when I have a baby. Why is it so hard to accept help?

And I felt the difference this week, the heaviness hanging over me began to break up above my head, my energy has been slowly returning.

I continue to lean on my community, on the Spirit, and on Scripture. It seems easier to walk away from community for me, easier to be autonomous and anonymous but I find I need the strong three-strand cord more and more.

I longed for this for many years. And yes, our church isn’t perfect and, in fact, it makes me a bit crazy sometimes just like all churches do for all people who show up and put their hearts on the line.

But now, to me, church should be the people I turn to when I am tired, too. My one word for 2015 is Hold Fast, based on Hebrews 10:23, but just a few lines down from my pet focus right now are these words: “Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on…”

I don’t think we need a four-walls-and-a-non-profit-status to qualify as church but these people are mine and I am still learning to admit when I need something from them, too. I know Scripture commands us to confess our sins to one another, in order to be healed, but I am also learning to confess my needs, my struggles, even my true state of being. And restoration waits there, too.

So come all you who are weary and exhausted, all you who have poured out of your depths to fill another: be filled, be restored, receive for once. Wherever you find your church, let them be the ones you turn to when you are tired. Let us pray for one another, let us hold fast, let us confess.

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, Hold Fast, journey · 23

May God bless you with anger

Last weekend, I was in Winnipeg’s historic west end with the YWAM Urban Ministries and the Little Flowers community. It was a very dear time for me in many personal ways, absolutely, because I’ve been writing alongside of Jamie Arpin-Ricci as a Canadian theological blogger since the dark ages – back in the day when there were only about five of us writing about that stuff online and we were all so a-flutter over the emerging church, bless it – and he’s been very influential in my own life from afar over the years. He’s a bit of a misfit – a YWAMer who is a Franciscan priest in the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Go figure, eh? But it works. In fact, the longer and better I know him and his work, the more respect I have – not too many folks you can say that about, I know. So having a chance to spend time with him and his wife, Kim, their son and their community was very life-giving.

But the weekend was more than just my own time sharing about Jesus Feminist and even more than our personal connection and conversations – it was also about justice and community, church and calling, all things that we talk about a lot here in this space, particularly on the grass roots level.

So I’m going to be writing through a few aspects of my time with these folks over the next weeks as their work and posture impacted me deeply – and I want you to know them.  I don’t have a big agenda or timeline though, I’ll just write as I can and look forward to the conversation that may unfold.

***

As you might have guessed from their church name, Little Flowers has been deeply influenced by Saint Francis of Assisi. This past Saturday was the Feast of Saint Francis so we had a conversation about the life of Saint Francis and if, like me, your knowledge of saints is pretty rudimentary at best, I’ll just say that he is way more than the guy on the bird baths and the pet blessings. We’ve domesticated our saints, perhaps, in order to make them fit on our pedestals. A good hint of the kind of man he was – and the order he founded of Franciscans – is to look at the new Pope Francis who took his official papal name from this saint with very clear purpose and inspiration.

Anyway, as a bridge into writing about the ideas that my weekend woke up in me, I wanted to share with you a Franciscan blessing that we prayed together as part of our small Sunday gathering.

And then I dare you to pray it.

franciscan blessing

Continue Reading · church, church planting, community, journey, missional, prayer · 14

Be Not Afraid: A Letter to my Charismatic Brothers and Sisters

benotafraid

My dear Brothers and Sisters:

I have been wanting to write this letter for a while now. Perhaps it’s silly to think that it will matter in any meaningful way, but I’m okay with being silly. Remember, we have always loved to sing about how we’ll become “even more undignified than this.” Acting a fool for the Lord is an okay place for me.

Our charismatic roots stretch back over 2,000 years of Christianity but our more modern family history begins with the Pentecostal movement of 1901 moving through to the Charismatic movement of the 1960s and then the Third Wave of the 1980s. That is when I joined our tribe – a skinny kid with a sensitive spirit and a thirsty heart and a mean dance-kick. I have been a charismatic woman for more than 30 years now. Even after a season of my life when I walked far away from our traditions, gathering the greater story of our Church and history to myself, I now find myself corkscrewing back over and over again to the teachings of my childhood, the songs, the practices. For more than one hundred years, we’ve arguably been at the forefront of the emphasis on the Holy Spirit and those gifts in operation for the growth of the Church and the redemption of the world. But perhaps that is the root of our suspicions – we’ve been outsiders for so long that we’ve become convinced that we are, in fact, marginalized. When nothing could be further from the truth. Out of all the movements of Christianity, our tribe of Pentecostalism or charismatic Christians is still the fastest growing in the world. As Harvard theologian Harvey Cox said, pentecostalism is “reshaping religion in the 21st century.” People who want to moan and groan about the waning influence of the Church have forgotten the global story and the bigger story of our little movement.

I think that kind of influence brings a demand for thoughtfulness and care, don’t you?

But over the past few years, as I’ve personally become even more charismatic in my practices and in my theology, I have found myself distancing myself from our broader family of charismatics, particularly our more public voices. I crave thoughtful voices, I crave hope and faith, and even, yes, a prophetic imagination. Even as my theology remains staunchly charismatic, I have found myself distancing from the culture of being a charismatic.

But we’ve all splintered as a movement over the years – which perhaps shouldn’t surprise us. It has happened to every other movement within Christianity, we shouldn’t be so proud as to think we would be exempt from this natural growth and change. It’s inevitable and likely even helpful.

Yet here I am writing to us all now, as a larger family united by the Spirit, wherever we fall on our history and practices, church affiliation or theology.

Family, I believe the Spirit has a word for us: be not afraid.

This message has been central to our history and it is key for our future.

I’ve been particularly grieved by two incidents within our tribe over the past few weeks. First, our brother Michael Gungor, one of the most thoughtful musical artists of our time, has been publicly vilified across Christian media – both traditional, online, and social – for openly discussing his belief in an old earth rather than a young earth. Our tribe has been quick to pounce on him in particular since he is one of our own. Yet he is not alone in this belief, of course, many well respected and orthodox Christians throughout the ages have held to the scientific evidence of the universe while still affirming the creeds and Scripture fully. But instead, many in our tribe have settled with fear-mongering misinformation. Often putting words and beliefs into Michael’s mouth that simply aren’t true, accusing him of everything from heresy to abandoning his faith to pride.

This reaction to Michael’s beliefs has grieved me for several reasons. First the lack of charity for him, the swiftness with which so many have kicked him to the curb, the hateful tones, the way that many in our leadership have simply fanned the flames of fanaticism and fundamentalism rather than engaging in thoughtful and careful care not only for each other’s souls but for the Church.

But second, I have been grieved because of the underlying truth at the heart of these reactions: fear. People talk about Michael and they are AFRAID. Afraid of the slippery slope, afraid of nuance, afraid of anything other than a literal black-and-white reading of Scripture, afraid of the breadth of tradition within orthodox Christianity, afraid of science, afraid of education, afraid of university, afraid of Michael himself even. Fear, fear, fear.

And secondly, there was the article published at Charisma News – once our flagship media empire but sadly now descended into fear-mongering and poorly disguised click-bait to incite emotional reactions. Written by Gary Cass, the article was entitled “Why I Am an Islamaphobic” and then proceeded to not only argue that it is impossible for any Muslims to come to Jesus, but that the only way to “deal with” our Muslim neighbours was to deport them, sterilize them, or take up arms against them. The article was eventually removed after a major public outcry but tellingly, there has been no retraction printed. Charisma has often in the past few years printed articles similar in tone or content, this was not a one-off incident but the latest in a long string of terrible and dangerous editorials. Brian Zahnd had a godly response to the article; in fact, he was the one who brought it to the broader public attention as well.

Like many charismatics, I parted ways with Charisma years ago for a few different reasons but this article went so far beyond ignorant stupidity. It flatly advocated the same tactics, theology, and beliefs that resulted in the WWII Holocaust and the Rwandan holocaust. It stank of evil and murder, genocide and hatred. Nothing could be further from the message of the Jesus who we claim to follow than this. And at the root of that evil and hatred – fear. Fear, fear, fear. 

Be afraid, the world tells us. And now, sadly, it seems many of our charismatic/Pentecostal media outlets and leaders are telling us the same thing. Be afraid. Be afraid of money, be afraid of losing “the fire”, be afraid of education, be afraid of theology, be afraid of growth and change, be afraid of gay and lesbian people, be afraid of art and science, be afraid of television, be afraid of artists, be afraid of reading books, be afraid of the news, be afraid of Islam, be afraid of the President, be afraid of the UN, be afraid of immigrant children, be afraid of other churches, be afraid of the Pope, be afraid of socialism, be afraid of the government, be afraid of the world, be afraid be afraid be afraid. 

We’ve taught the message that “everyone is out to get us” and “be afraid” for so long that perhaps it is no wonder that we have become fear-filled, defensive, close-minded anti-Christs. I grieve for our witness. Is this the activity and experience of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Surely not.

We are living out of our worst fears instead of our best hopes. We are teaching and preaching, we are writing, we are leading, we are praying out of crippling fear instead of the hope of Christ.

This saddens me because it is so far from our historical roots as charismatic/pentecostals. And it is also so antithetical to the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of the Lord will never look and smell and speak fear. The Spirit of the Lord will not bring division and disunity. The Spirit of the Lord will not move us toward hatred, ignorance, fear, and evil actions.

In some ways, I am still very simple and childlike: Jesus is still my teacher, still the one I want to follow to the ends of the earth. And if someone’s teaching or leadership is leading me away from the teachings of our Jesus, let alone away from cultivating the fruit of the Spirit’s operation in my life - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – then I have to wonder if that teaching has anything to do with the Spirit to begin with…..?

I think this is why it’s wise to be test and weigh the words of those who influence our own spirits and minds: are they leading us towards greater freedom and hope and joy? or are they weighing us down with the shackles of fear and torment? 

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

When I remember the early days of my faith, I remember our joy. I do. I remember that even though we were a motley collection of stories and failures, we had been born again in every way possible. Speaking in tongues, prophetic words from the Lord for one another, laying on hands in the belief that God would and could heal, all of it. I remember our songs and our hope, I remember our steady commitment to memorizing Scripture and how we were foolish enough to simply believe that it was true.

I remember how fear was an enemy to be routed and cast out of our hearts, not a pet to stroke and coddle, let alone a tactic for financial gain at the expense of each other.

So these two incidents happened. And I remembered what you all have taught me, family. You were the ones who taught me to cast fear away from my heart. What has happened to us? What has happened to our boldness and courage? I’ll tell you – we traded it for fear.

Our tribe is the one that taught me to wrap myself in the truth of Scripture: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

The Lord is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:17).

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18).

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. (John 14:27)

These were our songs, remember? These were our anthems. These were the verses we memorized out of our brand-new never-read-before Bibles and then wrote out on index cards to tape to our mirrors. These were the words in our mouths. These were the prayers we prayed over our histories and our families, over our own minds and our hearts, over our children while they slept.

Fear is not our motivator. Fear is not our address. Fear is not our ruler. We are not a people of fear. We are a people of faith and hope and love. We are the people of Scripture. We are the people of the Holy Spirit’s active movement and intimate involvement in our lives.

When we reject fear and embrace faith, I believe our lives become more open, more generous, more loving, more kind, more gentle, more patient. We are slow to anger and quick to forgive, we are a people of radical hope and forgiveness.

We are a movement with tremendous influence in the world today. What will our legacy be? One of fear? with his children hatred, ignorance, narrow-mindedness, evil, and even murder? Or will our legacy be born of the Spirit? with her children of hope and love and joy, wisdom and imagination, courage and thoughtfulness?

We have lead the Church so beautifully in so many ways, let’s lead well again.

How sad that we have opened the door of our heart, not to Christ and his hope and abundance, but instead to the insidious spread of fear. Fear will choke out the life of the Spirit in us. Fear will poison the fruit of the Spirit in your life. Fear is truly a tool of the enemy, it will destroy not only you and your life but the hope of Christ that you carry within for the rescue, renewal, and restoration of the world, too.

Dear brothers and sisters of the Holy Spirit, remember your first love. Remember that fear is our enemy, not our friend. Remember the words of Scripture and cling tightly to them, hold fast to the hope of Christ. Remember your roots in faith and hope, not fear.

Be not afraid.

Jesus has saved and will save and is saving the world. What can man do to us?

As so many of our brothers and sisters around the world face real persecution and torment, now is not the time for us to become lazy in doing good or to give ourselves over to fear. In fact, I believe that now, more than ever, we are all called to stand in faith, as prophetic outposts for God’s way of life, as glimpses of the ways of life in Christ.

Remember, “praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you,  who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” (1 Peter 1:3-6).

Be filled with the Spirit.

I leave you with the words of our brother Paul as recorded in Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

In faith,

Sarah

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless · 90

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 · 32