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

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I was a tongue-talking eight-year-old in a new church that was meeting at an old leisure centre. I guarded my confession – I’m coming down with a healing!, and I believed in thirty, sixty, hundred fold returns, calculated to figure out how much God owed me for my tithe. I secretly wondered what was missing in the lives of people who were sick or depressed or broke: obviously, they were not blessed. By the time I was a teenager at the Jesus camps, pledging my life to being a warrior in God’s culture army, I had memorized Bible verses as answers, and developed a pretty major evangelical hero complex along with my superiority and false sense of control.

I was nineteen and full of disdain for my old ways. I broke with the faith of my youth, railed against over-realized eschatology, studied theology and waxed philosophic about all the ways they were doing it wrong. I judged the Christians of my youth and my context, and I found them wanting, clearly I had a better theology now. I was stumbling into the fringes of an emerging movement in the church. Finally I found my tribe. And less than ten years later, I had abandoned the label, poked holes in the arguments I used to make, found the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies. I judged the people who helped usher me into this new season of my life in Christ, and I found them wanting so I held them up in my mind or in public for mockery and slander. I disguised my critical heart with a lot of talk about critical thinking. I found the points of weakness and drove a chisel into it, let’s watch it splinter together.

These are just two seasons of my life:  I also had my anti-instutitional church season, my I’m-not-a-Christian-season, my agnostic season, my angry feminist season, my new-wanna-be-theologian season, my screw-it-let’s-knit-things-season, my I’m-a-new-mother-and-I-know-everything-now season. I have had seasons for my marriage, for my work, for my processing, for my mothering, for my relationships, for my writing, and so of course, I’ve had them for my journey with Christ. I imagine I’ll have a dozen more, I’ll look back on the me-right-now with wiser eyes someday, I’m under no illusions.

Now I feel tender-hearted when I look back at my own self in those seasons. And I feel tender-hearted towards all the people who were there with me, all of us doing the best we could do with what we had.

I’m redeeming it. I am reclaiming.

In God, we live and move and have our being, and God was in and amongst the movements because he was moving in the people there, and now I see outside and in and among, and above all, for us, for us all.

I will gather up all these disparate seasons and thoughts and opinions and experiences, and hold them all in my hands with gratitude.

I’m able to find something good in the over-the-top excessive prosperity preachers and the smug theologians and the pot-stirring elitists and the overly passionate kids in the stadium light shows and the evangelistic new mothers and the disillusioned bitter cynics, because I’m all of those things, too. Someday I’ll add the woman I am now, the theology I practice, the words I write so earnestly to that list.

In addition now to the wrongs or the missteps or the weirdness, I see the beauty of my young first generation faith: a love for the Scriptures, a deep and profound sense of God’s inherent goodness, a respect and love for language and words, a passion for worship and full engagement. I see the beauty of the other seasons, too: the respect for education, the widening of horizons, the gift of anger, the awakening to complexity, and a tribe of sinners-saved-by-grace reminiscent of a messy first-century Church, I see grace. I look back on the people, on the movements, on the seasons, and I want to curl up beside all of us, listen, love, and be kind. I want to reach out and hold hands.

There’s room for all of us. There’s room for all of me.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting soft, literally and figuratively. Maybe it’s because I see this cycle of seasons in our own lives and in the Church, and I see it happening again.

Maybe it’s because I’m gratefully disillusioned about church leadership. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty convinced that we’re all doing the best we can do, most of the time. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anyone has the corner on truth. Maybe it’s because I’m thankful for the extremes and all points in between, because they keep us growing, keep us alive, keep us reforming. Maybe it’s because I’ve been wrong so often. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit tired.

And maybe I want a little more kindness.

Maybe it’s because I imagine, someday, likely today, the Church will look at me, with disdain on their faces and parody Twitter accounts and coffeeshops and doctoral dissertations on all the ways I did it wrong, and all I’ll know how to say is that I know, and I’m sorry, I hope I learned to be kind.

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Continue Reading · church, emerging church, faith · 41

In which you are loved and you are free

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I know that they have told you to be silent. I know they’ve explained away your gifts and your callings, your abilities and your wisdom, even your marriage, your stories, your testimony. They’ve clobbered you with paragraphs and words and proof-texts, made you feel like you are wrong somehow, either in your practice or your orthodoxy or your very created and called self. I know they have hurt you, stifled you, broken you, bound you, held you, cornered, badgered, limited, silenced you. I know, yes, I know.

And so here, I’m going to preach you on down. (You could say that this daughter is prophesing, if it makes you feel better about it.)

Stop waiting for permission.

Stop waiting for someone to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, that you have a place, that you are called. Stop waiting for someone else to validate the person that you already know you were made to be.  Stop holding your breath, sister, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, and your quietness, your submission and your “correct” doctrine what God has already freely given to you.

Because, darling, you are valuable. You have worth, not because of your gender or your calling or your marital status or your labels or your underlined books or your accomplishments or your checked-off tick boxes next to the job description of Proverbs 31.

In Christ, you have value beyond all of that. You abide in love, you can rest in your God-breathed worth.

Let me remind you: you are loved. And you are free.

I say, let them bicker. Let them make up the rules, we don’t abide by them. Let them add and add and add to the millstone around their own poor neck. You, you are called to freedom, you are called to wholeness, you are called to love and mercy and justice, you are called to the better way, and it will not be taken from you. Gently loosen that millstone from their neck, if you can, whisper the rumours of freedom to the north, but don’t get so roped up in the entanglements of limits and the weight of apologetics that you forget that you are already free.

I imagine them around a fabled table, in suits, no doubt, pulling the chairs in tight and tighter, until they are the only ones left there, crowded around a tiny table in an airless room that feels small and smaller. Me? I stand outside, in the wilds, banging my pots and pans, singing loud and strong, into the wind and the cold and the heavens, there is more room! There is more room! There is room for all of us! And then I’ll slide right up next to you, I’ll hook my arm through yours, I’ll lean in, I’ll whisper right into your ear, quiet, loud, it will sound like I’m singing or like I’m preaching, and I’ll say, there is room for you.

What is the cry of your heart? Pay attention to that. Listen to what makes you angry, honour what makes your blood pump faster, what makes you come fully alive. Now go. And do. You know Jesus, you have experienced the power and the grace with your own life, you have felt it in your own heart, now go, heal, disciple, minister, love, and do likewise. Speak, breathe, prophesy, preach, get behind a pulpit, mark exam papers, run a company or a non-profit, clean your kitchen, put paint on a canvas, organize, rabble-rouse, work the Love out and in and around you, however God has made you to do it, just do it. Don’t let them fence you in or hold you back.

Love your husband, love your babies, love the poor, love the orphans, love the widows, love the powerful, love the broken and the hurting, love your friends, love yourself, love your enemies, come to love the whole world in the fullness of God, in the full expression of the woman that he has created you to be, just that, no more, but certainly no less.

Choose freedom. Choose the freedom of living loved, far from their tables and debates and fence lines and name-callings, their belittling, divisive stereotypes. Extend the gift of freedom and grace, second chances, and more grace, just as you have received them. As e.e. cummings wrote, it takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. You really are created, you really are chosen, you really are cherished, so you really can be who you are. Live counterculture when the culture does not affirm truth, love, faith, mercy, and justice.

It matters because you matter, because your daughters matter, because your sisters matter, because the people of God, and the entirety of his created world matters, because redemption matters. So we’ll keep up the holy work, however that looks, we’ll keep worshipping, keep loving, keep making space for God in the world, and in each other for holy grace to fill. The kingdom of God would be better with your voice, your hands, your experiences, your stories, your truth. You can go where I cannot go, and someone needs to hear you sing your song, you are someone’s invitation.

You are loved.

Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, dulling your mind, satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.

Stand up, shake the dust from your feet if you need to, and look outside, it’s beautiful, isn’t it? There are a lot of us here, waiting for you, in the open air. We’ve been here all along, don’t you know? We’ve been ministering, preaching, praying, teaching, loving, mothering, caring, singing, walking each other home. It’s glorious and messy, far away from the rules and the limitations, the barriers and restrictive religion. But look, here, we, the people of God, we are here with you, we are a family, we’re your family, we’ve been waiting for you. We have a big, gorgeous tent and every one is welcome.

This is my messy contribution to Rachel Held Evans’ Week of Mutuality. The Church gives me hope, all of it. 

 

Continue Reading · abundant life, church, community, emerging church, enough, faith, fearless, missional living, social justice, women, work · 103

In which I admit that I couldn’t be a Christian by myself

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I read Sara Miles’ beautiful book, “Take This Bread” and she wrote: “You don’t get to be a Christian by yourself.” Me? I tried. I really tried to be a Christian by myself. And, in my deepest hurts from the Body of Christ, it helped to cocoon away in the in-between-space. It helped to step away from the institutions of Church for a while, from the programs, from the self-perpetuating machine, from the politics, the religion, the expectations, the behaviour modification focused easy spirituality, I packed up all of my baggage in steamer trunks and headed out. I had my doubts, I had my hurts, I had my questions, I had my battle scars, and they mattered then, they matter still.

I shed a lot of the performance anxiety in those years. I reconciled what I believed and why. I embraced the glorious kaleidoscope of experience. I loosened my grip on my opinions. I entered recovery for being a Know It All. I stopped caring what people thought. I stopped expecting every one to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done. I stopped using the word “should” about God or church. I sought God and he was faithful to answer me. I look at those years now, those years far from church membership, from steady weekly attendance, far from performance-driven faith, far from an Official Church, and I know that God was there in the wandering. God set me free from crippling approval addiction, from my evangelical hero complex, from the fear of man, he bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul.  I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical And I found out that He is more than enough, always was more than enough, always would be more than enough.

Water in the desert came from cups fashioned by the hands of those that loved the Gospel. I found community. I found friends. I found family. I discovered that the hand of God was strong and firm, gentle and loving, in the hands, breath, and voices of the people of God. There are more of us that love God and love people, that leave the scent of grace wherever we walk, that forgive and serve without fanfare or book deals, that work for justice and mercy than I could have ever dreamed. They loved the unlovable, the marginalised, the hopeless, because of their great love for God. They believed the Jesus actually meant all that stuff he spoke while here on earth. They were on mission, they were peacemakers, they were everything I wanted to be when I grew up, you gorgeous people of God.

It turned out the Bride of Christ was broken, yes, but she was so beautiful to me when I found her out here in the desert, in the world and in the Anglican church and the emerging church and the house church and the organic church and the Vineyard church and online and in coffee shops and in the woods and even/especially in the people I still think are wrong wrong wrong about stuff.

Can you be whole and full in Christ without spilling over? Can you be loved without yearning to love in return? Can you be healed without wanting to heal? Can you receive goodness without wanting to point every other fellow beggar on the road to the source of that goodness? Can you deconstruct without wanting to rebuild someday?

Can you be restored to God without being restored to the people of God, too?

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t. Loving Jesus meant learning to love and celebrate His Church.

But the Church isn’t a non-profit status anyway, it’s not four-walls-and-a-baptismal-font. Church isn’t a club and it isn’t a membership and it isn’t a set of beliefs and it isn’t one doctrine. It isn’t Sunday morning liturgy or performance. It’s bigger and more. The people of God gather in ways so different, all that matters is that we gather together somehow, to love, to live out the mission of God and the Gospel, to eat together and feed each other.

Church is the family of God.

And I found my family everywhere.

I could care less about labels. I could care less about demarcations and boundaries. I know where I find God and community, and that’s okay. I know you might find both God and true community elsewhere, and that’s okay, too. And we’ll both probably shift and change and switch places now and then. The only lyrics for the song in my heart are Love and Freedom, yes, life in Christ is a life of LOVE and a life of FREEDOM.

A love for the Church has blossomed like a garden in that wilderness, free and wild and hopeful and unexpected.

I still feel rather protective about my desert-self, just like I feel protective of every one still there, I never want to forget how it feels to be there. I want to remember, to honour your journey, your in-between-space, I want to grab your hand and tell you to lean into it. I want to remember that it looks different for all of us, and that no one is more surprised than me that my journey has lead me here, back again.

And, when I realised that God was restoring church to me, giving me back my joy in intentional community, in Sunday mornings and Bible studies and tithe cheque numbers, in the gathering of the Body to worship and learn and support and eat and scatter back out to our world, even in the calling of my husband to pastor, I laughed at the irony and I laughed gently at myself and I laughed because I was happy.

I only came back to church when I didn’t care if I ever went back.

I only came back to church when I found Church everywhere.

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Continue Reading · church, emerging church, faith, journey, missional living · 39

In which I have an Evangelical Hero Complex

Do big things for God! Do radical things! Do hard things! You’ll reach thousands for Christ! An evangelist! A preacher! A pastor! A healer! A prophet! Signs! Wonders!

And every time I heard that message preached, it subtly communicated something to my young heart: If it’s not big and audacious, it’s not good enough for God.

Brian and I refer to it as our Evangelical Hero Complex.

All of those years of hearing sermon after sermon, youth camp after Bible study, about doing BIG things for a BIG God with BIG visions and BIG plans left us with crazy-high expectations on ourselves coupled with a narrow understanding of following Jesus. And then, when, like most of the kids in the youth groups or Bible colleges, we found ourselves in a rather usual sort of life, surprisingly not preaching to thousands on a weeknight, we were left feeling like failures, like somehow we weren’t measuring up, we weren’t serving God effectively, we must have missed it because isn’t our life supposed to be about doing big, successful things for God?

Plus there was this hierarchy firmly fixed in my mind that everyone in full-time vocational ministry was at the top of the Truly Committed Christian Food Chain – missionary wins every time – and the rest of us were support workers, some call it “pew fodder”. If you are really serious about God, you go into full-time ministry. And God will honour you with big, hairy, obvious success.  (I don’t think it was intentional and I yearn to give a measure of the grace that I have found and received in Church, but, I can’t deny, for better or worse, the message was clear.)

God loves big. If one is good, two is better, and thousands mean the Holy Spirit is all over it. And so we valued the man preaching at the front to thousands more than the social worker with a caseload of 80, more than the caregiver with one tired soul in their care, more than the father coaching basketball in the suburbs.

We were so busy celebrating the Evangelical Hero that we forgot heroes come in all walks of life, callings and success ratios.

And, like so many in my generation, I became so tired of doing big things for God.

Tired of feeling like I didn’t measure up.
Tired of gauging my obedience to someone else’s calling.
Tired of feeling inconsequential.
Tired of defining success by what others see in terms of numbers or income or job title.
Tired of celebrating the preacher and ignoring the foster parents, the hospice workers, the carpenter, the faithful giver-in-secret, the teacher, the prophet-disguised-as-a-mother.
Tired of feeling like it – whatever it is – all depends on me.

Here is the funny thing I learned when I began to dis-entangle from my Evangelical Hero Complex: I’m pretty sure that there aren’t actually any big things for God. There are only small things being done, over and over, with great love, as Mother Theresa said. With great faith. With great obedience. With great joy or suffering or wrestling or forgiving on a daily completely non-sexy basis. And grace covers all of it and God makes something beautiful out of our dust.

The Kingdom of God starts small, a grain of wheat, a mustard seed, a leaven in the loaf. And it spreads, oh, yes, it grows. But it starts small, even hidden in the secret places, a knitting together of wonder, perhaps. A candle on a lamp stand, a woman searching for a coin, a man in a field with a treasure worth selling everything to possess.

It won’t surprise anyone to know that I am no hero. I don’t really want to be anymore. (Okay, so sometimes I do. I’ll be honest. It’d be nice.) But I do want to take the work of my hands right now, today, whether it’s a book I’m writing or a floor I’m sweeping or a phone call I’m making or a meal I’m cooking and I want to hold it all in my hand, in my spirit with a breath of prayer and intention, like we are all a fragile universe needing love in this moment.
And I want to honour and respect and celebrate the work of us all, big, small, noticed, unnoticed, seen, unseen. 
He is The God Who Sees and I want to see with His eyes.

Even those people doing the big traditional Hero Things have told me this, they are just doing one thing at a time and the daily work of it doesn’t look that sexy. There is a lot of blood, sweat and small wins coupled with small failures along the way and usually we are only seeing one small part in that moment of their life.

One soul is as valuable as thousands, millions. One soul is as important as 99, worth leaving everything behind to rescue. If there is one soul in your care, one face in your loving gaze, one hand you are holding, you are holding the world. If anything matters, everything matters and the work today, the love we give and receive and lavish on the seemingly small tasks and choices of our every day all tip the scales of justice and mercy in our world.

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Continue Reading · church, emerging church, faith, journey · 66

In which [it is Lent] words need flesh

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These days, words are becoming flesh for me.


I drove in the pitch dark pouring rain to Pastor Helen’s house, perched precariously on the hill next to the ocean, navigating hair-pin turns in a minivan. I was nervous and now my nerves were shot. After all, this was a gathering for the women of SheLoves Magazine. I respected these women; I worried that I might be a disappointment, that I might not fit with all of their soul-goodness, fit with the sisterhood thing. But no, of course not. Idelette and Tina were as gracious as I’d imagined, Kelly might be a soul-sister I’ve just discovered and I tucked Destiny, Claire, Kisa, Musu, all of them, into my heart a bit deeper. 


Do you know what it’s like to sit in a room full of intelligent, passionate, hungry-for-justice, diverse, grace-filled, funny, articulate, crazy, anointed, Jesus-loving opinionated women? 


It’s brilliant. Absolutely bloody brilliant. 


All ages, all stages, all nationalities, all accents, all experiences, our fingers curled around cups of tea, and it got real. We talked about why we cared about women. We talked about callings and battles, about finding our voice, about learning how to be vulnerable and how incredibly scary it is to take off your mask but how much better it is to feel the wind on your face. 


So many women, so many stories, and somehow, divinely, here we all were, and it felt like something prophetic was being born, a spark. Like, see here, world, see here, Church, this is what it looks like, this is the better story of womanhood here, right before my eyes, sitting beside me in real life.  




I spent the day making double batches of shepherd’s pie. I’m the community care leader at our church so if a mama has a new baby or someone falls on rough times, that’s us, we do the simple work of making meals. It’s humble and it would be more exciting, maybe it would make a better blog post or book idea, to sell everything and move to Africa but all I have a hunch that all I would be doing there is the same thing I’m trying to do here: love people, forgive, extend grace, make meals, welcome people into my life, raise my tinies, write, learn from people much smarter than me, preach the Gospel back and forth to each other with our lives, sing, gather, love and love and love. 


This week, there was another graduation at Mercy. One of our sweet graduates told a story publicly for the first time about everything that brought her to Mercy and when I heard about her life, her childhood, I couldn’t breathe, my lungs just forgot how to work. And I remembered again how I used to think that life didn’t take a lot of faith, I was so stupid, so naive, so sheltered. Her there, whole, on the road of wholeness, took more guts and faith than I think I posses and I love her, I love them all, our girls. And every woman there is my hero. 


It gets real when it’s real people.

Intentional community is a huge risk. But if we truly believe that people can live and work and worship and love in harmony (which, as Pastor Helen beautifully described that night, is simply moving from dissonance to resonance with each other) then here is something true:

Words need flesh. Dreams need hands. Visions and prophecies need hearts beating, minds grappling, hands working and we need a lot of screwing it all up, too. Sisterhood needs women, church needs people, and if, as Ruth Bell Graham said, a marriage is a union between two good forgivers (which, I believe it is) then the church, universal, is a gigantic family of good forgivers.





The work of loving people, it looks daily and mundane and normal, in fact, there usually isn’t anything very sexy about it if you’re doing it right, and then suddenly, the scaffold of giving and taking and working and justice-seeking and forgiving and serving and loving turns into this magical thing of community and transformation and family and this is church, a foretaste of what God intended all along. Look at us, looking after each other

Community is the work of gardeners, not POOF! magicians. 

It’s a good thing to tend to the better story.

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It’s Ash Wednesday today. My sister and I attempted to round all of the five-tinies-five-and-under to the Anglican church for the imposition of ashes but it didn’t come together. I miss the drag of the priest’s finger across my forehead but really it’s okay. This is my 8th year observing Lent, these forty days a time of fasting and repentance, of remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return, of remembering the depth of my need for Jesus. In years past, I’ve fasted the Internet or blogging or certain foods or coffee. I usually observe the daily offices during Lent and this year will be no different.


I’ve been thinking about these words from the book of Isaiah for Lent this year:

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
   to break the chains of injustice,
   get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
   free the oppressed,
   cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
   sharing your food with the hungry,
   inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
   being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
   and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
   The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
   You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

This is the fast I’ve chosen: to pray for the beautiful Church, in particular God’s daughters worldwide. I’m tucking something extra into my heart and words and prayer and practice – God’s women globally, in particular our residents and applicants to Mercy, all fighting the good fight for their freedom and for transformation, for hope.

God is stirring the waters in my soul, the song I’m hearing whisper across the water is breathing your name somehow, and I feel like taking some time to brood over God’s women in the world, in the church, to pray, to wait, to cover us all.

So this Lent, I’m carrying you, my broken and beautiful family, in my heart, this is the fast I’ve chosen, I feel you thumping along with me here and I want some flesh on my words, I want righteousness to pave the way.

With that in mind, can I pray for you? If so, let me know in the comments. I can hold you up to Jesus, I can stand alongside you during Lent. What’s on your heart today?



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Continue Reading · church, emerging church, faith, lent, Mercy Ministries, scripture, social justice, writing · 70