Jesus school: not the most inspiring in town

jesus school not the most inspiring in town

many of you know that when i describe the refuge i use words like “messy, chaotic, honest, uncomfortable, unpredictable.”  it is so funny to me, looking back on the past 3 ½ years how the world that i came from was completely different.  on mega-church staff we used words like “focused, distraction-free, inspiring, dark-so-you-don’t-have-to-see-the-person-next-to-you, comfortable.”   this past weekend at the refuge we had all of our kiddos with us upstairs; my friends facilitated the gathering in the same basic format as the downstairs kids gathering.  there were bright lights, running around, coloring, games, snacks, and an incredible amount of chaos and creativity.  i kept chuckling thinking about the words “distraction-free-environment”and how in some of my old experiences if a parent brought their kid into service and they made any noise an usher would come in and politely escort them out to the children’s program.  i am not saying i want to have every week look like this past saturday; too much distraction and chaos will not allow us to engage with God and each other in a meaningful way and that is one of the reasons why we gather each week.  but i think we have a lot to learn from  messy, chaotic, honest, uncomfortable, unpredictable community that we might not be taught in our current culture, not just in church but also the world.

subtly & directly many have become “addicted to inspiration.” i know i used to be.  i remember leaving many a church service energized & filled up and thinking how amazing it was (and now i am pretty sure none of those inspirational moments translated into change in my real life).  i have noticed that the new rage seems to be podcasts & a message everyone needs to somehow listen to.  i am not saying this is all bad; we all need fuel for our journey.   but i do think that often-times our addiction to inspiration shows up far beyond just a weekly church service.  we sort of expect that the relationships we’re in, the groups we go to, the people & places we spend our time in will all somehow make us feel good, better, inspired, happy, encouraged.  and when they don’t—when we somehow don’t get the high or hope we are looking for—we move on to try and find it somewhere else.

when i read the gospels, i see a lot of dissonance, tension, and confusion.  people leaving certain interactions with Jesus scratching their heads.  others feeling outraged.  and yet others feeling tended to and valued.  but one thing feels fairly clear to me—his message, his delivery, the end result of his time here on earth  wasn’t very inspiring or feel-good.  rather, he over and over pointed toward the upside down & counter-cultural ways of the kingdom of God where safe, comfortable, predictable, easy, and clear were not the right adjectives.

i think one of Jesus’ bottom lines was that the ways of love & sacrifice & justice & mercy will  not come cheap or easy.  relationships are usually not inspirational. they usually don’t leave us feeling super-de-dooper inspired & infused with cool, exciting energy like a powerful sermon and worship service seem to.  sometimes they leave us feeling inadequate, angry, frustrated, confused, a little empty and tired.  my guess is that Jesus understood this and that’s why what he was calling us to—love—was so much more difficult than any abiding-the-law-and-check-in-the-boxes-feeding-our-religiosity would ever be.

i am learning more than ever that real love hurts. receiving, giving love among broken, real people is brutally hard.  relationships will be the hardest and in my opinion potentially one of the most spiritually transforming things we will ever participate in, but they require a cost that when we’re really honest we may not want to actually pay. let’s face it, deep down most of us are pain avoiders.   i also believe “church” hasn’t on the whole done a great job of teaching & modeling this kind of intimate connection primarily because most church leaders aren’t usually measured on their healthy relationship skills but rather on their ability to inspire, build, strategize, and implement.  i believe all of those A-list-church-planting-skills are possible without ever really having to be in deep, close, intimate, challenging, not-just-giving-but-also-receiving-love relationships.  and as leaders, it’s pretty hard to take others where we are not willing to go.

i am not blaming this all on “leaders.”  that is so unfair. i just think it’s a human condition we all have to fight against—an avoiding of closeness. i am as guilty of it as the next person.  i’d much rather “do” than “be.”  i’d much rather be with easy people who don’t require anything of me and constantly tell me i can do no wrong.  but in reality, the place i have always learned the most, grown the most, been challenged the most has been in the dissonance of relationship.  my life rubbed up against my friends and companions on the journey in all kinds of crazy ways.  it is there that i am forced to reckon with why i am a judgmental, self-protective person.  it is there that i notice my tendency to people-please and do anything i can to keep the world spinning ‘round. it is there i notice how difficult it is for me to receive mercy & grace & truth even though i’m great at dishing it out.  it is there that i notice how i really hate it when people see my dark side up close and personal (i don’t mind talking about it, but letting people actually see it in action, now that’s another thing all together.)

and as much as i am thankful for it, part of me hates learning about love.  and now, i realize, i’m in too deep.  i am no longer addicted to inspiration.  i’ve completely lost my taste for it & just can’t stomach it anymore.  but i readily admit that even when i rag on people still seeking the high, i also am a little jealous.  damn, it’s easier.  go get a little fix, a temporary high, a God-infusion, and then go home.  sometimes it really sounds tempting.  but here i am in the midst of all this relationship—everywhere i look!  it is beautiful beyond belief but far harder than i ever expected.   sacrificial love—a giving of myself—requires more of me than sometimes i want to give.  i wonder if that’s a small piece of what Jesus was saying about love—there’s no greater love than he would lay down his life for his friends (john 15).  when i give a piece of my heart, my life, to another person i am sacrificing myself.  this kind of sacrifice is foreign & goes against all the things the world tells us about independence & self reliance & taking care of ourselves & doing-whatever-it-takes-to-feel-good.

these kinds of incarnational sacrificial relationships will tax us, stretch us, move us, transform us, and through them i think we will:

have to give as much as we get. sitting passively, getting inspired, we get without having to ever give (other than maybe writing a check).  in relationship that just won’t work.  other people have always been jealous of certain groups & relationships i have been part of, and i get a little defensive in response “do you know how much we have all invested to nurture this? how much blood & guts & time is on the floor? this didn’t just magically happen by sitting on my butt waiting for it to come to me!”

be faced with our tendency to bolt & make excuses. most of us suck at the long haul.  and we’re even worse at conflict.  we are just as bad at living in the tension of not getting all of our needs met all the time (think how many leave churches, groups, because they don’t have the right kinds of programs, speaker, time of the night, you name it). i admit, sometimes i dream of getting in my imaginary red convertible and driving away, never to return.  but then i wake up and remember “oh, that’s right, wherever i go, there i am.”   yeah, we’ll just bring all of our “stuff” to the next place we go.

have to “need”. maybe this is the hardest part.  with all this talk of missional, i think there are so many who are excited to serve, give, “be needed,” but the other side of the coin—“to need”—sometimes gets overlooked.  parts of the body need each other. i hate needing.  i love being needed.  in real relationship, both must exist.

strain to notice God’s work in the midst.  what’s God saying, doing?  what keeps getting stirred up?  what part of our character is being challenged?  what are we learning about God, ourselves, other people through these relationships? i think this is the biggest blessing of real relationship; seeing God at work in us and through us.

i am trying to learn some of these things in different ways, to different degrees.  i consider real community a little like “Jesus school”, the place i can learn to love and be loved. and like most schools, it’s not always fun and games but a lot of hard work & challenge.   anyone read the beatitudes lately?  not a piece-of-cake assignment!  there are definitely times i want to drop out, but i know down deep the things i’m learning here go far beyond the confines of the refuge.  it is teaching me, strengthening me, growing me in my relationship with God, myself, others in ways i sometimes can’t even put my finger on.  and yes, there’s no doubt, Jesus school isn’t the most inspiring school in town.  in this school they work our tails off and don’t let us just sit and listen.  we actually have to participate and give our hearts,  our selves, to other grownups and kids in a very intentional way.   we may not get a fix or a high, but we do get to be part of the beauty & hope of real people learning the ways of Love. and even though i know i’ll be bugged, irritated, and frustrated with the work, i know this upcoming school year will be filled with new friends, old friends, and a helluva lot of incredible learning.

  • what are you learning these days in “Jesus school”, whatever that looks like for you?

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.

10 Comments

  • Kathy,

    Your post ironically, inspires us to take a deeper look at what inspires us and shapes us in the ways of love rather than carefully choreographed worship experiences. Beautiful!! As David Bentley Hart observes, “the beautiful does not always immediately commend itself to every taste.”

    Reply
  • Outstanding post – thank you! I really love the phrasing of “addicted to inspiration.” You really speak to an important point of what it means to be the community of Jesus – and the messy, often less than inspirational but certainly incarnational aspect of life together. Well done.

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  • You’ve given me language for something I’ve been feeling lately. I’m actually a little *sick* of inspiration. I’m not much interested in music that will make my heart soar (well, sometimes, of course…but not every Sunday, please?) or preaching that will “blow my mind.” I want to see what it looks like to live in the Kingdom, not just view it from the hilltop a mile away, glittering in the sun.

    Reply
  • Somewhere along the journey I lost my attention span for sitting and listening to inspiration. But as you say, I’m not sure 99% of what momentarily inspired me has ever been translated into real and lasting change in me either.

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  • very good post!! It really helped me understand a lot more of your part of the journey and all that…

    To relate to your paragraph on jealousy… I too have been thinking on my journey recently how ironic it is that 2 or 3 years ago I would have LOVED where I am now. I would have ate all of this up so much, what I’m involved with now and would have been so happy … but because of all God has done in the past few years… I just can’t be okay with what I see/experience. The tension I feel..the uneasiness.. the discontent is there now and makes me so unsatisfied. It would be so much easier if I could not know what I know and could fit in better…. but God is doing something different…… once you’ve been opened to a new vision or something (?) you are changed and can’t fit into where you once were….. but at the same time, I don’t think that just because God has given others around me that same vision/calling that they are on the wrong path/unbiblical/whatever…. I just belive GOd has a different plan for them and different path and they are where they are, believing what they believe, seeing what they are seeing for a reason too.

    Anyway! 🙂 Just rambling as usaul. really really great post though – gotta save this one. really good one.

    this paragraph really clarified a lot for me on different viewpoints I have been hearing for a while now. very good:
    “let’s face it, deep down most of us are pain avoiders. i also believe “church” hasn’t on the whole done a great job of teaching & modeling this kind of intimate connection primarily because most church leaders aren’t usually measured on their healthy relationship skills but rather on their ability to inspire, build, strategize, and implement”

    Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
  • Wow! Every time I visit your carnival, I find myself moved. Not taken for a ride (urf!), just changed, as my mind and heart more closely align with the Lord’s injunction to “love one another.” Thank you for that.

    Several parts of today’s post moved me deeply, and one I must comment on:

    “have to ‘need’. maybe this is the hardest part. …but the other side of the coin—’to need’—sometimes gets overlooked. parts of the body need each other.”

    The year was 1999. We were meeting friends for breakfast, people I’d known since I said “yes” to Jesus’ offer of life a decade before, people who would no longer live close by because they were moving 350 miles away.

    The year before, my husband and I had the worst year in our married lives. He’d become sick and couldn’t work; got laid off. Got better, found another job. I got pregnant; difficult pregnancy; couldn’t work; lost the baby midway through the pregnancy. All told, we probably only had 25% of our annual income so, along with our deep sorrow, we “lost” our house.

    Did we mention this to these friends? Not until the end of our breakfast, and only because she pushed me to stop chatting about surface things. I didn’t want to tell them, not because of pride, but because I didn’t want them worried/concerned/burdened as they began this new chapter in their lives. Was my decision correct? As it turned out, no. Just as you stated, Kathy, they needed to be needed, and we prevented them from having that experience. Sorry to say, my choice drove a wedge in our relationship and we’re no longer close.

    And I still have a tough time with that, confusing needy with being needed. But I’m learning. Those closest to me now, the ones I call “heart friends”, don’t let me tough it out on my own.

    Thank you for reinforcing a lesson so hard for me to learn. Thank you for your compassion, your love and deep, abiding care for those Jesus died to save.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

    Reply
  • I’m learning to be okay with being alone a lot of the time. I’m learning to be complete in Jesus so that I can give all I have regardless whether I can anything from those I give to in return. I’m not talking about being a lone ranger or purposely avoiding relationship or gathering with believers. However I’m learning to be whole in Father and so that I can be a part of healthy and give and receive relationships, because I have been made healthy and whole. Yes I do realize that part of being made whole will only come through real relationship with other parts of the community of followers of Christ. However I know that like Paul who spend approximately 14 yrs in Arabia learning from Jesus, and I’m confident receiving healing from the religious system of obligation, performance, fear and shame he came out of I too am experiencing the same thing. Even in this place I have been blessed with a few relationships with safe Brothers and sisters in Christ that Father is using in the process as well both in cyberspace and in real life.

    You all are so incredibly blessed to have real community of Christ followers. I so long for the day that Father places in such a community that I have tears in my eyes even as I write these words! So few in this culture ever find genuine Ecclesia community.

    Tom

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  • By God’s wonderful grace, I have taken up an apprenticeship, Kingdom apprenticeship – proclaiming, manifesting and teaching that the Kingdom is here. Go therefore, He said, to every ethnic group and help them become my students. I am no longer a convert, a statistic to be added to some denominational roll – I am an active participant in the most dynamic movement – I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

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  • dan – i am glad we’re in all of this craziness together–from afar! it is worth it…

    rick – i am glad you liked it, and yes, that inspiration addiction post was one of my very favorite blog posts of all time, written by my friend karl wheeler from the refuge. i think about it often. it’s such a subtle one and so we don’t think of it as “addiction” but it truly is. detox is sometimes required…

    lori – yeah, it’s hard to find. i see the dilemma for “churches” because there’s this weird bait & switch that they have to live with–if we can’t ‘keep’ them, then how can we ‘use’ them? i know that’s strong language but i think it’s true because i know the hearts of so many churches isn’t to get people who come there addicted to inspiration but that’s the only way they know how to get them there. the problem is that the ways of jesus aren’t really exciting, aren’t for the faint-hearted, and are for people who are willing to sacrifice their needs/wants/desires for others. i think we have done a great disservice to the world by focusing on inspiration instead of true kingdom-living. i wish you lived closer!

    mary – yeah, me, too. 🙂 glad we’re ‘uninspired’ together. it’s probably the most change i’ve ever experienced, though!

    randi – yes, there are all kinds of different ways out there and i am glad you are finding yours…it’s beautiful to see!

    margret – this is a powerful story, thanks for sharing so honestly & it hits so clearly on this issue of how we hold back all the time for all kinds of reasons–pride, fear, oh all kinds of things–and in that we miss out on real relationship with others. i am glad that you find some hope & encouragement here at the carnival and don’t feel “taken for a ride” that made me smile 🙂

    tom – yes, it sounds like you have been in an incredible season of healing & strengthening & finding true freedom. it is beautiful and i think points to all the different shapes & forms the kingdom of God takes. and that even though you are in a season of ‘alone’ you haven’t isolated and are connected to others in a very tangible way that is far more challenging & filling & real than all those years of sitting in “church.” “ecclesia” can take place in many shapes & forms. thanks for your faithful encouragement here and contributions to the conversations, i am thankful.

    mark – apprenticeship is a beautiful description of it. love it. and love your heart and passion for the kingdom, it is contagious!!!

    minnow – always love what you share and the challenging ideas you stir up. thanks for the link love.

    Reply

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