twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. so throw off the bowlines. sail away from the safe harbor. catch the trade winds in your sails. explore. dream. discover.
– mark twain
once in a while i sort of hear this comment, either underhanded or directly: “well, we are just sick of church malcontents talking about all the things that are wrong with church, they leave so they never are part of solving the problem… why don’t they stay & do something about it?” while i think that can be true, we all know there are far more people out there who have “left” (who gets to define what that means anyway?) but are finding different forms of gathering and expressing their faith that just looks so foreign to the institutional church that people think somehow it doesn’t quite count. and i think people who say this tend to not have experienced hitting the wall yet so they have no idea what it feels like to get disillusioned, kicked out, aced out, burned out, dreamed out, oh all kinds of things that contributed to some sort of shift, exit, transition away from all that once was. i do think most everyone i know-even those who have “left”-really haven’t left. most are finding our way in different forms of church that are being birthed in coffee shops & living rooms & bars & online & on the top of mountains & in weird old grange halls & downtown & in transitional housing facilities & all kinds of other places where people commune together & seek after God’s hope. the church IS being born & reborn again and again in all kinds of glorious and wonderful ways. most every shift away from the status quo will be tagged by the system as some kind of movement born from disgruntlement & anger & frustration. this is the sad part to me about what the emerging movement has met with in terms of resistance-“they’re the ones with the liberal theology…they care too much about action and forget doctrine…they’re just mad about this or that…they’re not evangelical enough…” oh there are far more criticisms that i could list here and honestly i try to stay out of the argument because it all makes me a little crazy. why can we not just celebrate that the kingdom is being expressed? that people are living out their faith in beautiful ways? that there’s a hunger & a desire for living out the ways of Jesus that has nothing to do with the structures & programs that many grew up with? that where two or more are gathered, that can be enough? that lots can get done apart from the mother-ship but not apart from Christ.
i sometimes wonder what i would be doing if we hadn’t birthed the refuge. i am pretty certain i’d be working as some form of an advocate in an agency in this town, gathering with friends at my house like we have for years, and somehow connecting with hurting people longing for hope & help & a chance for life to change. it would have been plenty. somewhere along the way i have lost the need for any kind of whiz-bang-music & 30 minute sermon & cool kids program to be part of my week. i am pretty sure i can live the rest of my life without it and that doesn’t mean i’m missing out on anything or am just angry or bitter. it also doesn’t mean i’ve left “church.” it doesn’t feed my soul like it used to & i am finding new ways to connect with God & scripture & the story i find myself in. all that said, the refuge is “a church” (sorry, john, i had to say it…even though i like to call it a faith community instead–or when i’m talking to outside agencies who look at you sideways when you say “church”, i say we’re ‘a nonprofit ministry dedicated to advocating for women & struggling families’ because we are a 501c3 and that is what we often do and then they’re not so confused!). it’s funny because lots of people somehow don’t see the refuge as a ‘church’ because it looks so foreign to what most have experienced at a weekly gathering. people dialogue. sometimes there’s music, sometime’s there’s not. we eat together. we laugh together. we talk about God together. we get up and move around. we sit in circles & around tables & on the floor & outside. but that is an hour and a half once a week. that could never ever ever ever ever (note the evers) be considered “church”. that is called a meeting or a gathering. our weekend gathering is just one of several others that meet during the week that sort of do the same thing. the “church” is the people. period. the people connecting with one another and other people they are in relationship with throughout the week. it’s the love, the prayer, the encouragement, the doubt-expressing, the hand-holding, the truth-telling, the grace-giving, the resource-sharing, the long list of other ways that people’s lives intersect with other people’s lives (and not just people who “attend”) during other 6 ½ days of a given week.
we all value different things. for me, community is the highest value because it is in relationship, life-on-life, that i believe we learn the ways of Love. of course, Jesus spent time alone connecting with God the Father & knew how to find ways to separate from people & get re-fueled, but i believe the gospels call us to incarnation. to be his image-bearers. to live out the ways of the kingdom that are so counter-cultural to pretty much all we get taught about independence, power & success. it’s so subtle i don’t think many really even notice or consider what they are submitting their hearts and time and money to-inequality, mortgages, an unspoken addiction to certain people’s teaching & ability to inspire, a perpetuation of a we-will-help-those-‘poor-people’ mentality that keeps us from ever living in true community with people who aren’t like us (oh i can’t help it, here i go again!)
but really, here’s where i land and here’s why i’m writing this: in my little small world i just want to be part of living out not what was or what is, but “what could be.” it’s not perfect. it’s not ideal. it’s not more godly or more important or more anything than anyone else. it’s just what we are deeply dedicated to trying. that’s about it. there are so many stories far more interesting than ours, but because this is the story i find myself in and somehow there are people out here who are listening in to some of these thoughts, i’m just going to keep sharing until you tell me to stop by not reading anymore!
last week we spent some time with our dear friends from portland, ken & deborah loyd. they co-pastored for a long time together in a community called the bridge (they’re website’s currently down, back up soon) & in the past few years ken has been cultivating a new community in downtown portland for people without houses called home-pdx. we spent hours & hours talking about what we are deeply passionate about, about what we are seeing & tasting & experiencing personally & in the communities we live in and what we hope for the future in small and big ways. one thing that is always crystal clear when we are together: this is worth fighting for. we cannot just ignore the desperation. we can’t just walk away. we can’t just leave it to the church professionals. we have to create safe spaces for people who aren’t powerful & shiny & bright and contribute our little part to the kingdom, no matter how insignificant it may somehow seem.
over the next few weeks i am going to flesh out what i believe about “what could be” a little bit more, not just for you, but for me, too. a lot is fairly clear to me but there is so much that needs to be lived out, expressed, experimented with in more intentional ways. i want less and less of this to be theoretical (that is the easy part) and i do have some fun stories i’d love to share that somehow remind me that this really is worth trying. i want to find ways to live and breathe and see some of “what could be” in action, individually & corporately. i don’t separate out “well, this is the ‘church’ part and this is the ‘individual’ part.” in all different ways we are a part of the body of Christ. & what i reflect individually i reflect corporately and what is reflected corporately reflects individually. my bottom line: we are called to be people & places of hope, light in a dark world.
so here’s my laundry list, some hopes for what could be. i would love ‘the church’ (whatever that looks like) to be a place of hope, where:
God is expanded
pain is welcomed
doubt is honored
power is difffused
equality is practiced
love, mercy & compassion are extended
justice is pursued
creativity is expressed
freedom is celebrated
okay so now i have committed myself to actually writing about each of these over the next few weeks. we’ll see how it goes! thanks for processing some of these thoughts with me. i love the conversation here & always appreciate the emails & ways that you remind me that you’re wrestling with all of this, too.