unbind her

unbind-her

i spent the past couple of days in downtown denver at a women’s event that some dear women i know put together called woman come forth. i run in weird diverse circles. i have my wild and crazy emerging friends, my conservative evangelical friends, my don’t-go-to-church-and-don’t-plan-to-anymore friends, my recovery friends, my eclecic refuge friends, my i-have-had-bad-experiences-with-christians-but-i-kind-of-like-you friends, and a hodge-podge of other lovely people God has brought across my path.   i am very thankful for the richness it all brings.  but sometimes it’s all kind of comical!

this event was quite an experience! based on the story of lazarus in john 11, it wasn’t the typical “women’s conference” kind of thing even though it kind of looked like it from the website/brochure.  there were no MC’s, prizes, rah-rah, workshops, workbooks, 3 important points to remember. it was a blend of eclectic music, drama, dancing, art, media, speakers, healing prayer and experience and just flowed from one thing to another.   it was all pretty wild and a huge undertaking. the craziest part about it is it was free to attend.  it wasn’t about marketing, making money, it was about bringing together women in denver who were longing for a little greater freedom.  they asked for donations if people wanted to contribute but it wasn’t necessary and people could designate their gifts back to organizations represented there that advocated for women, including the refuge.  really, the whole heart of the event was about honoring & empowering women.  the women that pulled this off have been so kind to me,  “go pastor” cheerleaders from afar, really believing that women’s voices and passions and purposes have been silenced too long and it’s time for a change in the kingdom of God.

so this weekend i was a real live preacher girl.  we don’t really teach like that at the refuge;  we are far more facilitators than teachers so it was kind of fun to have 40 minutes, a captive audience in a dark room, to just let it rip with no one talking back (hahahhaha. refuge people know what i’m talking about!).   it was a really big crowd, the most women i have ever spoken to all at once, and when i looked in their eyes i’m like “i know you, i know some of that crazy stuff that goes on in your head because i’m fairly sure (not always) it’s the same thing that used to or is currently going on in mine!”    there are certain things that most women, but especially christian women, tend to think, do, feel.

my section was based on john 11:44,  two simple words.   Jesus, after raising lazarus from the dead and calling him forth, doesn’t just magically strip the graveclothes off him, instead he turns to his community, the dear friends in lazarus’ life, and says “unbind him” 

Jesus encourages lazarus’ community to participate in his healing.  i believe we need to participate in one another’s healing.  God calls us out, but i need others to unbind me, and i need to help others get unbound, too.

most of the graveclothes that women are walking around wearing aren’t apparent on the outside like lazarus’,  but spiritually, emotionally, they deeply influence how we do our relationship with God, people, ourselves.   i think graveclothes are the lies that we believe about ourselves, the messages that have been sent to us through life experience, damaging relationships, the church, you name it.  things like

“i’m not enough”

“i’m too much”

“i’m not worthy”

“i’m unforgiveable”

“i’m too ashamed”

“too damaged”

“useless”

“stupid” …”fat” …”lazy”

“i have nothing to say”

“i don’t have enough faith because if i did i wouldn’t be like this”

“i have to stay in control or else the world will fall apart”

“i am all alone”

“it’s up to me”

“i’m unlovable”

“if they really knew me, they’d leave me”

“i don’t deserve anything good”

“who i am in my worst moment is who i really am”

a lot of women get taught that we just need to replace these lies with “truth” – scripture will take care of it.  if we just know the truth of God’s heart for us and stand on it firmly the lies will magically disappear.  i am not discounting for a minute the power of scripture and God’s transforming words, but i will just say that i think only “telling the truth” is overrated.

i think we need much more “showing the truth.”  showing the truth to each other tangibly, in community, practically, for reals, instead of just relying on saying right words and thinking that alone will heal these deep core messages that are messing with our freedom.  and there’s no doubt, showing the truth is far harder because it requires time, tons of grace, and the long haul of being with each other even when we aren’t quite “getting it” fast enough.

part of our continual spiritual transformation will always be unwrapping our graveclothes, but sometimes we’ll go through seasons of bigger work than others.   my friends have helped me unbind some big ones over the years.  but it’s taken years.  these deep messages don’t go down easy, but i truly believe it is possible. i have seen it with my own eyes, i have experienced it in my own life. unbinding just takes a lot of time, energy, slogging-through-the-pain, and love.

but in order to even get to the unbinding process we have to “come out,” (Jesus says in the previous passage, “lazarus, come forth!”).  we have to learn how to be honest, put the truth out on the table, quit hiding.  my friends don’t just magically know the lies i struggle with (although my guess is that our graveclothes are more apparent than we often think).  i have had to be brutally honest, make myself far more vulnerable than i like to be, and let them hear my heart so the process of unbinding could actually happen.

in the church, i think this is the hardest part.  of all places, the church should be the safest place for our brokenness but my experience has been it’s the least safe (especially on leadership teams!)   i think the reason why is that we are typically not up for how long the unbinding process really takes.  we think that going to a group for 12 weeks will be enough.  we think that a certain bible study or speaker or material will do the trick and then we can get back to our regular spiritual life.  we go to therapy for a while in hopes we’ll get fixed.   we get taught by dear and well-meaning pastors and leaders that we need to do certain things, “get healed up”, and move on.  the value of continually integrating healing-community-serving in a natural, real way is very rare. plus, so many communities focus on women-with-women and men-with-men that we miss out on the amazing healing that can happen when men and women, brothers and sisters in christ, are in the trenches together.

anyway, the women at this conference took some really big steps, saying out loud things that needed to be said, identifying some of their graveclothes.  now my hope is that they can find a place for some long-term unbinding.

there were a few other things that struck me this weekend.  men served the women both days (they wore tuxes and were so sweet and kind). i was able to talk to several of them and they all expressed how they wanted to become men who completely empowered women to live out their giftedness. they apologized for their part in keeping women stuck.  i missed this part because i was in a few intense conversations, but it is my understanding that sherman bradley, the husband of sadell bradley (who i had the privilege of connecting with through off the map and the team hired to come out for this event) publicly apologized on behalf of men for any ways that they had oppressed, shackled, minimized, hurt, or otherwise damaged women.   the women i talked to said his sharing was extremely powerful.  we need more men like this.  we need more understanding of how misogyny is so deeply engrained in our culture, the world, churches.   my friend ellen fleshed this out in her session, offering amazing perspective how spiritually and culturally women have been bound & silenced, it has never been God’s heart, and it’s time for some serious change.

well, i am now going to rest a bit.  the past few months have been a little too nutty, too busy.  i am ready to soak in some sunshine and chill.  i wasn’t quite sure what this experience would be like, i’m extremely gun-shy on this kind of women’s stuff, but i was glad i was part and was able to say some things that maybe needed to be said.  it also made me even more deeply committed to the work we do in our little wacky community, the refuge.  we might be small, look ugly on the outside, but boy oh boy there’s some seriously beautiful unbinding going on.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

16 Comments

  • Oh my God. That’s what I said when you said, “Unbind him.” That is awesome. I never saw that.

    Please know that what you just said was from your Father, using you to speak to me. It was a gift to me. Thank you.

    Never, ever believe that God can’t speak through women.

    Reply
  • Kathy, this line so resonates with me: “…plus, so many communities focus on women-with-women and men-with-men that we miss out on the amazing healing that can happen when men and women, brothers and sisters in christ, are in the trenches together.” I believe so strongly that we really need each other, men and women, to find the fullness of wholeness and freedom. When I look back over the times I’ve been “unbound” by others, sometimes it was a man and sometimes it was a woman doing the “unbinding,” and often it was both at the same time removing my graveclothes. We really do need the WHOLE body for fullness of freedom. Your post is a a great reminder of that fact.

    Reply
  • This is awesome. I could use a great big unbinding session myself right now. It is all so fuzzy personally that even seeing God in the traditional masculine representation makes it hard for me to relate to Him. That is the biggest obstacle.

    Reply
  • Kathy!! I was so great to finally meet you this weekend. I was so very powerfully impacted, especially though your talk. As soon as the slide was put up that said “UNBIND HER”, I started bawling. I have been trying so hard to unbind myself to absolutely no avail. My good friend Amy came along with me and we bonded in an amazing way though this realizing how much we need eachother and need to stop pretending that we’re fine. She asked to read her grave clothes to me and we walked out of the tomb together. It was a powerful experience, and I do thank you for holding me on the way out when I was overcome by emotion. God is so GOOD. Even when we dont think he shows up on time, He is so much more GOOD for it.

    Reply
  • jonathan – wow, that is cool. thanks for that blessing. as i wrote this i totally recognize that it’s exactly the same thing for men, looks a tad different but so many of the graveclothes are even the same. hope & peace & courage to you as you continue to unbind each other in sacto.

    tracy – it is so true, we do need men & women more and more, it is has been so healing for me to be with safe men who love me for me not for all the other weird destructive stuff i was used to getting affirmed by. i think we are so afraid of this in the “church” that we are missing out on so much healing that can happen.

    jewls – thanks for your honesty. wish you were here so we could have a real conversation and a cup of coffee, but you are so not alone in the questions…

    gloria – it was so fun meeting you, what a cool bonus and that God moved that powerfully in that moment, well, that’s beauty. thanks for letting me in, i am privileged. i’m sure our paths will cross and i am glad you and amy have each other and you are finding a new community in denver to continue the unbinding. i think it will be safe there…

    Reply
  • Kathy,

    I was going to say the same thing…your list of things binding women are almost exactly the same for me (and most men, I’m pretty sure). Very powerful.

    I did a three day silent retreat with Brennan Manning back in the early 90’s (Joe Walters made this happen for the YL staff in his region in Texas). One of the excersizes he gave to me was this passage in Luke 11. He asked me to sit quietly in my room and read the whole thing very slowly, putting in my own name wherever the name “Lazarus” was, making the story about me and Jesus. I didn’t get through the first verse before I lost it. “Now a man named Randy was sick.” A few verses later, Jesus says, “This sickness will not end in death.” I lost it again. This was really good news to me. Apparently I felt pretty hopeless.

    It took me three hours or so to get to the end of the story. I met with Brennan again and he asked me to name what the grave cloths were that were binding me. It was the beginning of some really deep healing. I hadn’t really thought about that experience much since then. Thanks for the reminder.

    Reply
  • THIS is what the church MUST be about. This kind of healing. It’s really amazing to me how often the things you blog about are the things I’m already thinking through in my own life- we just had a “healing service” at our church in which it was quite clear that the pastor leading the service didn’t really believe any sort of healing would actually happen except in death.

    But sickness really doesn’t have to end in death as someone else mentioned!

    My wife likes to point out that in Greek, healing and salvation are the same word… the Church loves to talk about salvation, but we’re not too keen on healing…

    Anyway thanks again for your great insights!

    Reply
  • Kathy-

    Your post gave me hope to want to continue my Christian journey that I have been so close to walking away from. That conference sounded incredible, and I think I would have lost it the whole male apology segment.
    When I read your entries, I feel re-energized to believe again, and to want to be a part of the postmodern wave of Christianit that you represent. Thank you for that.

    It also made me want to move to Denver. 😉

    -Stacy

    Reply
  • mak – thanks, i’ll fill you in next week…

    randy – what a beautiful story, gave me chills, thanks for sharing. that is so powerful. brennan manning is the spiritual director of all spiritual directors! entering the story that way, amazing. i am so with you and jonathan, too, these graveclothes are so not limited to women.

    ted – yeah, unless leaders have experienced some things in their own lives, it’s hard to pass it on. i used to say “leaders can’t take people where they haven’t gone before” but that was kind of rude and unfair (and couldn’t quite back that one up biblically, ha!) but now i say “leaders can’t take people where they themselves are unwilling to go…” so i know lots and lots of great communities that will always stay on the surface, stuck, not intimate, because their leaders–as amazingly talented as they are in some ways–just don’t engage in this kind of healing community. thanks always for your comments. i forgot that about the greek word, some more good ammo for the song i am always singing! so tell your wife thanks for that and that i look forward to hear what is in store for her post-seminary, too.

    stacy – where do you live? the conference was a cool experience, sure, but the bigger thing is always the day-in-day-out being together and learning how to love, be loved, that is the hardest and most beautiful part. i am glad that there’s a spark that happens when you read here. i would love to hear more about your journey. that’s what i sometimes don’t like about blog-land, it sometimes feels so far away from right here, right now, but you are definitely in good company of those of us who are longing for the real thing…

    Reply
  • Hi again Kathy-

    I live in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. I would actually love to share with you a part of my journey, and I will e-mail you soon. Thanks for being a safe place, which is even apparent in blog-land.

    🙂

    Reply
  • More good stuff!! Thanks for sharing this…I had never connected the “communities” part in the unbinding before. Am continually amazed at how important this is and how much I have to learn about being part of it!
    Sure love you and that incredible heart of yours!!!

    Reply
  • stacy – i look forward to hearing from you. i am a better emailer or facebooker than myspace…

    donna – always great to hear from you here. i do think we forget how much true spiritual transformation comes through community but it can be so easy to avoid and we miss out on the depths of healing and hope because we are afraid. have an amazing time in amsterdam. there will be so many wonderful stories to tell. can’t wait to hear…

    Reply
  • Hey, Kathy, thanks for shining the light this past weekend on some of those graveclothes we walk around with and encouraging us to trust others in community in that unbinding and healing process. I loved the walking through the tomb experience we did, too. Back in the late ’70s a male pastor friend of mine used to say, “the oppressed always bear the greater scars.” We were co-leading a class on the exploration of women’s role in ministry (not necessarily a popular topic at the time.) I think part of what he meant was that, in this case, women, not only bear the marks or scars from the oppression, but the scars of our agreement with the oppression. How often does someone say, “I’m just a woman…” or at least think a similar qualifier that co-opts demeaning attitudes of inability to affect change or think adequately, or exercise leadership, etc. Yes, we need the involvement of other women AND men in community to help unbind us. And yes, I agree it will take as long as it takes (not just 12 weeks or a set “appropriate” time.

    Reply
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