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In which we’re not afraid of you

I’m the one who gets on your nerves, the one you wish would go away, I know. Maybe I embarrass you. Maybe I worry you. Maybe I anger you. Maybe it’s a bit of insecurity? jealousy? fear? Or maybe, just maybe, you’re afraid of people like me.

So.

Go ahead and say that I’m going to hell because I’m a charismatic woman, because I speak in tongues, because I believe in the mysteries of God. Go ahead and call me a heretic and a blasphemer, a wielder of strange fire, if it makes you feel better.

Go ahead and say I don’t love the Bible because I believe women are people, too. Tell me I’m in sin because Jesus is the head of our home and we submit to one another, and we both preach in church now and again.

Go ahead and say that I don’t have a right to write a book because I don’t have the proper letters behind my name, because I didn’t study in the ivory halls with that theologian you like to retweet, because I don’t have a properly footnoted thesis to back up the truth I know and practice in my life. I’m not worthy of being listened to with respect because I am a layperson, sure. Just because I love Jesus and can turn a phrase doesn’t earn me a place at your table.

Go ahead and say that I’m one of those grace people, one of those ones who forgets how to speak the truth, just too accepting. It’s all bit too loosey-goosey for you, it’s time for some authority to be exercised here. You like orderly boxes, ticked off boxes next to a list of position statements, I know. We’re starting to let this freedom stuff go to our heads.

After all.

I’m the happy clappy kind of Christian, oh, yes. I’m the one who speaks in tongues and lays on hands. I’m audacious enough to believe God is still speaking, still moving, still alive, still loving. I’m the one you warn the others about – stay away from that kind of mystic, you say, it’s a slippery slope. I’m the crazy one who worships with her whole body in her whole life – you might find me on my knees on a cold gymnasium floor with all the other renewal-ish people around me, or you might find me in a cathedral during Eucharist with my palms quietly up on my knees, receiving, always receiving, or you might find me in a field ringed with pine trees while I pray and pray and pray. I’m the dreamer of dreams, the speaker of visions, the heart-beating-faster with words of knowledge and unafraid to speak.

I’m the happily married mother of three who calls herself a feminist. I’m the one who grew up completely comfortable with female pastors. I’m the one who was raised to believe, live, and advocate for mutual submission, for full equality. I’m the one who dares to believe that women are people, too.  I’m debunking all your labels and accusations and fear-mongering with my very life. I’m the one who knows the Bible tells the story of wholeness and restoration, the Spirit demonstrates it, the community affirms it. I’m the one who believes that life in the Kingdom of God starts now: I’m setting up my little bonfire, a little outpost on the shore. This is my light and I’m going to let it shine: you are loved, you are free.

I’m the non-academic, yet another somewhat “pop” blogger with a book deal, another sign of the end of everything you hold dear perhaps. Blogging is dangerous because there is no gatekeeper. What will the people do without The Proper Authority to vet and approve the voices unleashed among the community of God? When else in Christendom would a woman like me have a voice or a platform or a book published? But isn’t it time, I say, isn’t it time for the everyday followers of Jesus, the ones who are wrestling, the ones who are living it out in our neighbourhoods and communities, isn’t it time for us to be heard, too, imperfect as we may be? The academics are worth listening to, so are the pastors, so are the older white men and traditional gatekeepers, absolutely: but make no mistake, you need to be listening to the rest of us, too. You need to hear and honour the voices and experiences of the non-academic, of the non-professionals, of the working class, of the middle class, of women, of the elders, of people of colour, of sexual minorities, remember the global voice, too. We are here, we are not voiceless, and we’re not waiting for permission to speak anymore. We got on with it long ago, we’re not waiting for you to notice us anymore.

I’m a big wide and messy orthodoxy. I’m the one who found Jesus in community centres and cathedrals, pubs and living rooms. I love the Presbyterians and the Mennonites, the Baptists and the no-names, the preachers of L.A. and the practitioners of the simple way, the megachurches and the house churches. I am a recovering know-it-all and I’m planted in the house of God, I love the family of God even when they drive me batty.

I’m not worried about boundaries and litmus tests, I’m not afraid of a slippery slope. I’ll lavish grace and invitation and proclaim love love love without fear. I don’t serve a God of Not-Enough, I serve a God of More-Than-Enough, More-Than-You-Can-Ask-Or-Imagine, a prodigal God, a lay-down-your-life God. You can warn me that I’m too generous, my arms are too wide open, too inclusive, as you draw your circles smaller and tighter until at last you’re the only one standing inside, alone. Narrative of scarcity or narrative of Christ’s abundance set before us, we give from what we have.

I get it.

If you can dismiss people like me, you don’t have to listen to people like me.

If you can dismiss me because I didn’t go to Yale or Fuller, because I’m a non-American woman, because I’m a lady-preacher, because I’m charismatic, because I still love the local church, because you don’t like my tone or my face or my age or my race, because I’m too much into All That Grace Stuff, then I’m not worthy. If you can dismiss us, you don’t have to listen to us regular little ones with small voices standing here along the shoreline.

Maybe you’re afraid because you know that I am one of many. And I am.  We’re the pew fodder, the grassroots rising up, the refugees from your systems and institutions, the subversives who stay, the ones slipping beyond your grasp. I’m one of the many outside who don’t care to sit around your tables anymore, we don’t play by your rules, we don’t need your  justification,  we’re not really longing for your approval, we’re beyond the reach of your tiny boxes and narrow constructs and boundary marker believership.

If you can discredit us or downplay us or disrespect us, you don’t have to listen to us.

And that’s just fine.

You don’t have to listen.

But I will speak the truth, even if my voice shakes. I will sing in the woods. I will stand here in the wilderness, head up, unashamed, following in the footsteps of Jesus as best as I know to do it, loving him into every corner of my existence, because, at last, at least, I am not afraid of you.

 

 

Continue Reading · church, faith, fearless, journey · 125

In which I explain why I like going to church

Because we drive by the farms on the edge of town and the tinies watch for sheep.  Because I almost always consider pulling over on the side of the road just to take photos of our Sunday drive: the crisp blue sky and the sharp green rolling hills, the turning-red blueberry bushes squatted across the fields, the rise of the mountains in the haze of morning, but how can you Instagram the rush of cold air in your lungs and how it makes you feel so beautifully, so fully, alive?

Because we walk in and Pat will hug me while she hands Joe the bulletin. Because after a week of Facebook and school pick-ups and drop-off lines, a week of writing and laundry, a week of working and to-do lists, I hear my name called out in the lobby and, maybe for just a moment, someone sees me.

Because we laugh with one friend, ask how another one’s health is doing, figure out who needs a meal this week. We exchange quick hugs as placeholders for the conversation that might unfold this week or next, maybe next month. We engage in all the small talk that precedes the heart-talks. I hear about a dear young couple whose baby might be coming home soon and now I’ve got a little tunic to knit for a beloved and longed-for baby to cast on later this afternoon.

Because someone is always glad to see my tinies. Because these are their friends. Because my tinies head for the kid table of colouring pages and crayons just to offer up a high five to their children’s pastor, they are home.

Because we sit in folding chairs in a rather drafty school gym and our tinies sprawl on the floor at our feet or perch on our hips or stand beside us and watch it all, all, all, taking it in.  This is what we do on Sundays, we tell them, we live it with them, we gather.

Because my friend Tracy leads worship, she wears biker boots and sometimes her hair is pink. Because when she begins to stomp those boots on that wooden stage and when she stretches her arms out wide, tips her head back and cries out to God like she believes it, it makes me want to sit down and cry. Because the guy who play the piano sings old Keith Green songs, the same ones I used to sing to my babies in the sleepless nights. Because my son wants to sit in the front row. Because my toddler raises her hands up and warbles and hollers a song, she thinks she’s singing along, and no one gives her a dirty look. Because my eldest is twirling in the back with her best friends, eager for the worship dance class starting in November.

Because that couple over there just got married and that other one has been married for forty years. Because that dad has his arm around his teenage son and that lady took my exhausted friend’s little baby right out of her arms with a gentle smile and said, go on, you go on and sing or sit down, I’ll look after her for a little while, and I saw my friend’s eyes well up with thankful tears. Because this guy is in recovery and that guy is his sponsor. Because all these teenagers like to sing their hearts out and because I can hear babies and restless toddlers making noise without restraint.

Because I love to sing and where else in our lives do we get to sing communally anymore? Because I love happy-clappy choruses and sober hymns, because “I love you, Lord” sounds so beautiful in my own mouth. Because I love to worship with my people, and these are my people.

Because I chat in the always-long line-up for tea and coffee. Because I sit beside my husband and we whisper back and forth during the sermon, it’s the closest we get to date night some months. Because we know and love our pastors for their humanity, not in spite of it, for their expansive pastoral hearts that make room for all of us, because of the way they show up for us. Because sometimes it’s an amazing sermon and sometimes it’s, um, not. Because we pass the bread and the cup, and we give each other communion and there is room at the table for everyone in this room.

Because I’ll see this little group of people on Thursday night for our Bible study, and that is where we’ll talk about the real stuff, show up, be disappointed and forgive, love each other a bit more every week. We’re friends now, but I see the promise of a sense of family coming.

Because even though the phrase “going to church” kind of bugs me (we don’t go, we are), and even though it’s messy and imperfect, even though I’ve let them down and they have let me down, even though there are disappointments, even though I don’t agree with everybody and they probably think I’m crazy sometimes, too, even though I don’t think we need an official sanctioned Sunday morning thing to be part of the Body of Christ, because even though I think the Church crosses a lot of our self-made boundaries and preferences and gatekeepers, I keep choosing this small family out of hope and joy.

Because I want my children to grow up with the imperfect community of God like I did. Because I want to reclaim my heritage of faith as worthy of intention. Because I need to receive and I need to give. Because I want the tinies to know that however much I mess up, however much I fall short of my own ideals, I was planted in the house of God because this is where I practice it, learn it, start all over again. Because I want my tinies to know what my voice sounds like when I sing Amazing Grace.

Because at the end of the service, they practice the priesthood of all believers and anyone can pray for anyone else. Just go ahead and pray, go ahead. Talk to each other, you don’t need a sanctioned commissioning, you are already part of this Body so go on then. Because I need to be around people who love Jesus, too.

Because I know Jesus better when I hear about Him from other people who follow Him, too. Because I almost always encounter the Holy Spirit in a profound, sideways sort of way when we’re gathered together in His name. Because then I leave and I go back out into my world, my neighbourhood, my life, and there is always the promise of next week. Because some of my greatest wounds have come from church and so my greatest healing has happened here, too.

In a fractured and mobile and globalized world, intentional community, church, feels like a radical act of faith and sometimes like a spiritual discipline. We  show up at a rented school and drink a cup of tea with the people of God and remember together, who we are, why we live this life, and figure out all over again how to be disciples of The Way, because we are people of hope.

 

 

Continue Reading · church, community, faith · 30

In which I want to talk about the If: Gathering with you

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A few months ago, I mentioned that I was throwing my hat in the ring with a women’s conference called “If.”

And then I changed my mind.

Envisioned by my friend, Jennie Allen, If wanted to gather, equip, and unleash women to live out their purpose. At first, when I heard about this, I was pretty excited. Part of her dream was to cross denominational and theological boundaries, to welcome in those of us who feel a bit on “the outside” of the mainstream, to build bridges instead of fences between women in the Church. The leadership team placed a value on authenticity, humility, diversity of experience, being Christ-centered, and even grassroots participation.

But when the initial conference plan hit the ground a few weeks ago, I admit, like many of you, I was disappointed.  It seemed like all the other same-old conferences and, as we already established, I have All the Feelings about conferences. (And apparently a lot of words about them, too.) I felt like the initial product offering wasn’t lining up with Jennie’s grassroots vision that had so excited me. I had concerns about everything from the lack of diversity to the cost of the event to the same-old “build it and they will come” attractional model.

I kept quiet for a while and tried to discern if this was something in which I wanted to participate anymore. (Just because it wasn’t my thing didn’t mean it wasn’t a good thing in its own right though.) But as time went by, I was pretty sure If wasn’t for me – or people like me.

I planned on backing out quietly and respectfullyBest of luck to you ladies, I’m thankful for people like you doing what you do, hallelujah, I’m sure it’s great, but it’s not my thing, so peace out.

But I had already committed to planning/beta-group If gathering with a core group of other women  - all of whom are currently leading a few of the discussion about women within the Church. I decided to honour that commitment at the least and withhold my final decision about my unlikely involvement until after that gathering. I flew to Austin on my own dime to spend a few days with a bunch of women who didn’t know me and, to be honest, some of whom are kind of a big deal in some circles. Sounds like fun to some of you, I know, but it was nerve-wracking, to be honest, I don’t do this kind of thing. I wondered if I was the token charismatic and progressive in the mix. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t fit in.

And then – well, I don’t know how else to say it really – the Holy Spirit showed up and called my bluff.

Forget the conference, I fell in love with these women. We talked and we laughed. We connected and told stories. We met at the table over good food and then we met again for the Eucharist. We gathered each other in close, we held on in the tensions, and we created a sisterhood.

I had been so worried about being the token feminist, the Progressive, the one who was always pushing-back against the status quo, the charismatic, the “outsider.” But these women welcomed me like I was one of their own. I felt like I belonged there, just as I am. I wasn’t tolerated, I wasn’t put at the “kid table” – I was part of the family.

I met a woman I’ve had on a ridiculous pedestal for years now – and I discovered a sister. I met another woman who was the complete theological opposite side of me  - and I discovered a sister. I met a hero – and I discovered a sister. I met a supposed enemy – and I discovered a sister. I was sure that this woman disliked me or that one distrusted me or that one would be difficult – and over and over again, I learned how wrong I had been. I had conversations over those two days that profoundly changed me, ministered to me, healed me.

The Holy Spirit met us in that place and we experienced the power of unity without conformity.

We experienced the gathering together of women hungry for Jesus, women completely over the false boundaries and demarcations and divisions, women who love well, and women who want to live out their callings with purpose and passion and guts.

We encouraged and prophesied, worshipped and wept, talked and prayed, we laughed until we were crying.

And it was every bit as amazing as you could imagine.

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So then we went home.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to quietly walk away from If. I still struggled with finding myself within the current plan, but now I had an idea of what Jennie’s vision had been – I had seen it in real life. And THAT is what I believe women in the Church are hungry for. Not another conference, not another Jesus-lady-camp, not even more preaching, not more impossible expectations and prescriptive one-size-fits-all version of womanhood with materials to sell and speakers to pay and worksheets to fill out.

No, women are hungry for Jesus! for a place of belonging, for freedom, for healing, for purpose, and for community.

Women in the church are wrestling right now – all ages, all traditions, all contexts. There is something stirring in the hearts of women all around the world, the Holy Spirit is moving across all traditions, whispering of freedom and wholeness. Women are rising up across the globe, and it’s glorious to behold.

We started to talk as a group about our dream to see this sort of gathering happen for other women. Not in a big slick performance of a conference, but instead, as an organic community gathered for the purpose of prayer, to be equipped for our unique callings and lives regardless of where we live or how much money we make, to cross boundaries and camps and truly unite as followers of Jesus, and then be unleashed. We imagined what it would look like if we did fling the doors wide open for the rest of us, ripped up the ticket price spreadsheets, poured out in the streets, scoured the city for anyone and everyone who wants to come, and danced in the neighbourhoods instead of the stadium aisles

And then something amazing happened: the leadership team listened to our collective heart-cry…and they did it.

They did it.

Seriously.

If you’ve been involved in a Christian institution for any length of time, you know how crazy and unprecedented this is. And you know how much courage and faith it took for the leadership team to basically burn down an entire conference, renegotiate with sponsors and vendors, and rebuild from scratch. The initial plan for If was on the paved road, well laid out by all the conference planners before them, it made sense to listen to all the “best practices” and join the parade.

Yet as we talked about Jennie’s vision and our collective experience combined with the deep hunger we all witnessed in our communities, we saw that this gathering was being called to the path less taken, to the grassroots, away from performance and production. It would be a bit messy, a bit wild, a bit loose, and that was okay.

And so, if you can believe it, they tore it down and then rebuilt the entire thing in just days with a focus on making it accessible to all incomes and neighbourhoods, with intention to include more diversity in the leadership team, with a strong connection to the local church, with a heart of humility and prayer, with real women in their real lives living out the hope of glory and the hope for sisterhood among us.

Whoa. 

I need to just publicly say how much I honour these women – Jennie Allen and Lindsay Nobles in particular – but the entire leadership team. They are humble servant-leaders with guts and passion. They are warriors. They are listening. They are trouble-makers and peace-makers. They are taking a big holy risk.

They have earned my trust and my respect.

So. If has been re-imagined. And I’m in. I’m so totally, all-heart-in.

On February 7, 2014, we’re starting with The Call to Pray.  In Austin, they plan to bring together all the voices, all the ideas, all the people, all the passions into one room – for FREE. It’s going to be pretty raw and vulnerable, I imagine, but as they said, “we believe God moves through weakness, imperfection, unknowns and faith…. expect all of that. And together we will dream and pray for God to move and unify us. This is a call to pray.” It will be simulcast to the rest of us so we’re part of the initial gathering, too.

So gather your people together in churches, in homes, in neutral places to take part in this call to prayer. But because of our limited time and resources to prepare, our advice to you is: keep it simple, keep it laid back, keep it loose.

There are so many unknowns we think it would be wise to keep February informal- we wouldn’t make a big production or plan your entire women’s retreat around this simulcast event. This is our launch team, our core group, and we want you to be a part of it. Just show up, gather friends, and watch with us what God wants to do as we pray and connect and dream.

Then in November 2014,  it is a call to unity. We will prepare local leaders around the world to bring together rooms and churches full of women from diverse denominations and cultural backgrounds to pray and connect together for their cities and to dream of how they can better serve God together, unified on mission. This happened for us when we gathered diverse leaders in Austin and we believe the walls could fall down and women around the world could see the same walls fall down. Local leaders and churches will partner with us to unify women across all cultural and theological backgrounds to dream, pray, and talk about what we can each do in our time and place for His Kingdom.

Being a part of something like If not my usual thing, I know.

But I want to be a part of it. I want to show up. I want to make space for the conversation, I want to see our global girls as part of this, I want to see women like me there – the ones who don’t go to conferences or do the whole “church institution” thing very well. I want to see women who never feel welcome or like they belong to be welcomed here.  I want it to resemble our diverse opinions and experiences and backgrounds. I want our often ignored or marginalized voices to join with our sisters around the world, learn from each other and listen and encourage.

I guess I have hope. Not in this little gathering, really – you don’t need an official gathering or anything, obviously, and this is just one little thing in God’s big global thing.

But this is a pretty amazing way for us global girls to come together, to do life together, to gather as the people of God and then scatter back out to our lives to make space for God in the world. For some of us, it’s an oasis in the desert, I know.

It gives me hope because I lived it for a few days, and it’s changed me.

We’re on the same team, and I love that we’re starting to act like it.

Of course, this bigger vision is even more expensive than before, and we need each of you to consider taking the next step and supporting our vision of gathering, equipping and unleashing women in this country and around the globe. Just because it’s free of charge doesn’t mean it’s free, right? If this resonates with you, please consider giving to IF : Gathering.  Registration will open October 14th on www.ifgathering.com.

images courtesy of http://everestroadphotography.com/

Continue Reading · church, community, If, women · 43

In which you gather at the homemade altar

You sent out the emails with the place and the time. You stopped at the grocery store for a round of sourdough bread and a bottle of the finest grape juice. You took the baby to the frozen food store while the tinies were at school, and you picked up appys and lemon squares (between a home cooked meal and your own sanity, you’ll choose your sanity, every time). The night came and you bathed all the tinies and put them in their beds early. You realized the washroom needed a quick wipe-down seconds before everyone arrived and madly ran around with the Windex, threw all the coats that usually hang on the banister into the closet. You made a pot of tea.

The doors are unlocked, everyone can just walk right in. They know that.

You covered your beat-up old coffee table with tablecloths from the thrift store. You arranged candles, centred the iron cross from your mantle, laid down your Bible and your Common Prayer. You placed the bread and the wine and – just like that – you turned your coffee table into an altar, your home into a sacred space for the gathering.

And that is how church begins on a rainy Thursday night in a small city in the west.

You love the way the men make each other laugh, the way their faces crinkle at the eyes. You love the way the women congregate in the kitchen so easily, standing around talking about their babies.

The night unfolded with logistics and scheduling, then justice to frustrations, prayer to silence, stories of our lives now and from our past.

It’s dark outside, pouring rain. Your babies are sleeping in their beds under the quilts their Grandma made for them, miraculously snoring through the loud laughter. The candles on your homemade altar drip drip drip as the night unfolds, and this is your church, these are your people, they look you in the eye. You know their stories, they know yours, but there is still so much to discover. Hope is still present. You’re not quite a family yet, but you’re getting there, one gathering after another.

And then you pray over their bowed heads, each one so precious to you, and invite them to the table.

So come to this table,
you have much faith
and you who would like to have more;
you who have been here often
and you have not been here for a long time;
you who have tried to follow Jesus, 
and you who have failed;
come. it is Christ who invites us to meet him here.

 

You tear off the bread and hand it to your beautiful friend: this is his body, broken for you. She turns and hands it to the man beside her, blesses him with that same benediction. Then you pass the cup – this is His blood, spilled for you – and you all partake together, one after another, hand to hand. You aren’t standing in a line, you’re beside each other and it’s hard not to grin sometimes. You read Scripture out of your old friend, Isaiah’s book, and right now here you are looking at the way that the desert has bloomed. This is your river running to Zion, and it’s right in your own living room.

Good night, good night. I’m so glad I was here, I’m so glad you could come, this was just what I needed. I love you, love you, too. See you next week.

This is another way that you have fallen back in love with the Bride of Christ: you opened your doors and welcomed her in to your life.

Liturgy taken from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

Continue Reading · church, community, faith, friends, journey · 13