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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.

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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

Accusations and Accolades

We had a few laughs over on my Facebook page and on Twitter yesterday because yet another person wrote a book about all the ways the rest of us are doing this Jesus-following-thing wrong. I’m an evil leftist menace to the Gospel – that’s about the gist of it. It made me laugh – by this point, that sort of stuff feels as hurtful as someone telling me that I’m Cookie Monster – and so I created a new (fake) blog header for a laugh:

evilsarah

This is just part of life, isn’t it? Accusations against us never end, we never outgrow them. In a way, the stronger we become, the louder our accusers become. But here’s the other side not too many people will tell you: the accolades also pile up. And neither one of those things are especially good for my soul, not on a steady diet.

Someone told me that I’m disgustingly prideful. They talked and wrote about my hubris, my vanity, my self-importance and self-promotion. Someone else told me that my hallmark is my humility and self-deprecation.

Someone called me an uppity woman, like it was the 19th century all over again. Other people tell me I’m too nice, that I avoid conflict, that I should get better at arguing and confronting, and at taking a stand.

Someone thinks I’m a terrible feminist because I don’t tick the proper boxes in their political opinion notebook. I’m just palatable to the pablum-craving masses, that’s all. And someone else thinks I’m a terrible follower of Jesus. Oh, yes, don’t forget the heresy: I’m an apostate. I clearly don’t place any value on Scripture. I’m weak and easily deceived with a disdain for the Word.

I can’t listen to the ones who think I’m evil – or the ones who think I’m perfect. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle anyway.

I can’t find my identity or my voice or my worth solely in the words and opinions of others. Those opinions are fickle and changeable when they aren’t rooted in hard-fought and long-standing relationships.

I mean, I’m open to criticism from the ones who’ve earned a right to speak into my life, absolutely either through their own earned influence or through relationship. And trust me: those trusted ones hold my feet to the fire sometimes. (But make no mistake: to me, there’s a difference between someone who speaks from an earned place of love and trust and influence into your life, and the drive-by critics with an ax to grind against you and no investment in the outcome beyond hearing their own voice.) And I’m deeply appreciative of the folks who receive life and wholeness and goodness from anything I would ever write or say – it is an honour I don’t take lightly, not for one single moment. And yet:

My identity can’t be found in the accusations or the accolades.

Here is the thing about standing up: some people would rather if you sat back down.  People prefer status quo. Boat-rockers make us nervous. Just like people in the wilderness wearing camel hair coats and eating locusts with a side of honey disrupt us, people who think Jesus actually meant all that stuff he said don’t always fit in with any empire or echo chamber.

But I won’t be silenced simply because I’m not perfect. My failings are real and I am well acquainted with them.

My prayer now is that my weakness shows the strength of Christ and his Kingdom.

I will call attention to my feet of clay and my own contradictions over and over again because no one is more aware than me that I only carry a priceless treasure – the life of Christ – in this (quite) cracked pot of earth. The treasure and the validity of the message can’t be dependent on my ability to please everyone all the time.

God is at work despite me and through me and in me – all at the same time.

I believe in being a feminist the way that Jesus would be a feminist, absolutely. I believe that our HOW matters just as much as our WHAT and our WHY and our WHO. And I want my ways to reflect the man from Nazareth, I want to walk in his footsteps faithfully, I want to engage in a way that is faithful.

And right from creation, we’ve been called to be an ezer kenegdo, a warrior. We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the he-who-the-Son-sets-free-is-free-indeed life. We’ve been called to the spirit-filled and God-breathed life, living out the ways of the Kingdom and the life in Christ to every corner of our humanity.

We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple. And sometimes that means people love what we do, sometimes it means they hate what we do. (In my case, they’re probably both right because I’m a mess and I make mistakes. I have, and I will, disappoint you.)

But we can’t engage in our lives from a place of worthiness without having a core belief about that worthiness: We are loved. We are free. We are redeemed. We are whole in Christ. Your true identity is Beloved. Start there. And then we can live out our lives and our callings from a deep well of love and freedom and wholeness – because we are.

There is something to learn from both the accusations and the accolades, make no mistake. We need to be teachable, to be listeners, to receive the wisdom of others. We need to be open to change. I pray that I am but I know I have a long way to go.

Even – maybe especially – it’s our imperfect, contradictory lives are still miraculously that are singing a beautiful prophetic song of invitation to the Kingdom of God. We all belong. We all fit. With all of our failings and our victories, our imperfections and glories, our wrong opinions and our correct doctrine, our connections or the lack thereof, our platforms or our obscurity, we all belong.

Whether we’re surrounded by accolades or accusations, our identity remains the same: beloved.

 

Continue Reading · journey · 36

Instructions for an evening of your life

Find a bit of water to look at, it doesn’t have to be much. Maybe a pond, a lake? if you’re really lucky, find the ocean. But go there alone at sunset. I know it seems indulgent and impossible – that’s because it is. But every once in a while, the best way to keep moving through your life is do something that seems impossibly kind for your own soul.

So go. Alone. Late in the day.

Leave behind the book. Leave behind your prayer journal. Leave behind the notebooks and schedule planning. Leave behind the mobile phone – if you’re in a good spot, there won’t be any reception anyways.

And here is your assignment: sit down and watch the water.

That’s exactly it.

Sit in silence at the edge of the water and learn to be satisfied.

10666013_10154598970400475_7282984086193437534_nThis is the tricky part when your life is full with good and necessary and hard things, I know. Your mind will jump around from thing to thing to thing. You’ll feel guilty and then you’ll feel indolent. You’ll feel like time has slowed down.

You’ll start to think that you need to make this time “count” for God and so you’ll start to formally pray in the ways that you were taught to pray – stop that. Then you’ll want to journal or read that God-book you’ve been meaning to get to because you think you really need to grow spiritually and the only way to do that is to try harder. You’ll get restless. You’ll think of all the Things You Should Be Doing. You’ll feel twitchy perhaps. Then you’ll remember how when you were a kid you used to be able to just be in a place without compulsively needing to check text messages or chase around getting things done, and you’ll think I didn’t used to be so fragmented and urgent.

Be silent and watch the water. Do one thing right now and do it with your whole self.

Prayer will come, it just might look a bit different than you expect. Rest will come to your mind, you have to wait for it in patience, this isn’t the province of multi-taskers. The middle distance of your mind will rise up and envelope you in an exhale just as the sun sinks begins to move towards the horizon. You’ll start to notice life as it is happening in that moment and this might begin to feel in your body like how poetry is meant to sound.

A fish will fly up out of the water and return, leaving only a ring of circles going further and further out to every shore. You’ll see a bird and try to figure out what kind it is – a heron? look at that elegant neck – swooping down low over the water heading for the reeds. You’ll see dragonflies swooping and after a few times, you won’t duck in a cringe anymore. You’ll watch the clouds drift and the water move and the sun sink and your soul will begin to stretch out into the space left open. This is not only what you need – this is what you want, what you desire and even those are sacred things at times. Before you know it, your hands will find a spot to rest and your breath will slow down.

Become acquainted with the silence in your own soul, you might be surprised by the sound of you. Sometimes you might rise up in gratitude and thanksgiving, other times the pain you’re finally allowing yourself to feel might overwhelming, sometimes your soul feels like worship and sometimes this feels like encountering a stranger – do I know you? Then sometimes it might simply feel like a good friend you haven’t seen in far too long and you’ll think to yourself, why don’t I do this more often?  

Let the sun set over the water. Be baptized in the gracious last light of the day, the satisfied light. Close your eyes and feel the light against your darkness, warming you.

When the sun has disappeared, the light remains. And when the night sinks down in shades of indigo and navy blue, you’ll be ready to be friends with the night and the silence, and hopefully with your own soul at last. The first star of the evening will appear at last like a benediction for the patient.

 

Continue Reading · journey · 11

I know. I’m sorry. I hope I was kind.

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 didn’t feel sick, nope, I’m coming down with a healing! and I literally 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-institutional 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 seasons. Sometimes I cycle through a dozen Sarahs in a day. 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.

Now 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 them, too.

Someday I’ll add the woman I am now, the theology I practice, the words I write so earnestly to that list of stops along the way of lifelong discipleship.

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 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 and more faithfulness, I want to walk in the way of humility. I think we underestimate the foolish ones and the kind ones.

Maybe it’s because I imagine, someday, likely soon, some part of the Church will look at me with disdain on their faces and parody Twitter accounts and coffee shops and doctoral dissertations on All The Ways We Did It Wrong, and all I’ll know to say is that I know, and I’m sorry, and I hope I learned to be kind.

edited from the archives

Continue Reading · faith, journey · 27