little pockets of love

little pockets of love

if you’ve been reading the carnival for a while most of you know that i’m a little on the passionate side when it comes to “the church.”  i have had many a critic say “you are so anti-church”  because i sometimes call out the inconsistencies & injustices in the system.  and at the same time, i have a lot of friends who wish i wouldn’t care so darn much about the church, that i could just let sleeping dogs lie & let the whole church thing go & be happy.   the reality for me is that i can’t. i am a dreamer. i believe in what could be.  and i feel deeply committed to trying to reclaim the word “church” in some little small way in my teeny weeny corner of the kingdom.

to me, the church has absolutely nothing to do with a building, a sermon, worship songs, a kids program, places to sit, and a person to look to.   it is about people. eye to eye, face to face, heart to heart. life to life. people knit together on the journey, somehow committed to living, growing, learning, eating, trying, and loving together. i often say that the refuge is a place to “learn to love Jesus and others and to learn to receive love from Jesus and others.” i know pretty much every church mission statement somehow includes loving God and others, but i do think that very rarely is the focus put on receiving love from God and others.   and even further, very little focus is put on loving ourselves even though Jesus inextrictably ties these two together, telling us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  no wonder this world is so messed up!   self-hatred, self-doubt, insecurity, depression, disconnectedness, and loneliness fill so many “churches.”

this past week i went to the denver premiere of the movie precious.  what a movie! i think it’s a must-see, but i do want to issue a warning in advance–it is not for those who have been victims of severe sexual, emotional & physical abuse.  certain scenes could be very traumatizing.  there are too many things to process about the film, but if i were to sum it all up i’d say that it is a story about a lost, hurting, broken, used, abused, unvalued girl who finally has someone who believes in her, who sees beyond the surface and calls out her beauty and strength in more than just words.  the teacher is the catalyst and invites precious into “a little pocket of love”— a place where she can receive love and begin to find hope & purpose despite the worst possible circumstances. i call that “the church” even though most others would just call it a classroom in an alternative school with 5-6 other girls who were just as hurting, broken, used and abused as her.

i believe that:

little pockets of love have the power to heal deep and dark and painful places in other people’s lives and story.

little pockets of love have the power to heal deep and dark and painful places in our own lives and story.

precious’ story is so painful and unfortunately, a little close to home in terms of the trenches we sometimes live in.  at the same time, it would be very easy to think that because we are in our cushy houses on our nice laptops reading this blog post that we can’t identify.  but i’ve been around the block long enough to know that precious is part of so many of us.  sure, on the outside many look better & have not experienced some of her intense trauma, but our insides are still filled with the same feelings of self-hatred, loneliness & fear.  there is one scene in the movie where the teacher asks each student to share one thing that they were good at.  precious said she didn’t have anything.  i immediately remembered a few years ago when i was facilitating an ex-good-christian-women’s gathering i asked everyone to write down 5 good things about themselves.  you should have heard the hemming and hawing and how painfully difficult it was to articulate something good.  this is a sign to me that “the church” has failed us.  it should be creating strong confident people who are in touch with God’s image inside, not insecure, devalued, disconnected-from-our-true-hearts people who can’t see anything good. “church” should be calling out what’s good, not just highlighting what’s bad.  i still think it’s totally bizarre that it seems like the longer people have been in “church” the less they seem to think of themselves.

it took a lot of work and i won’t give anything in the movie away but i will just say that the “little pocket of love” precious submitted herself to strengthened her to tap into what was always there but she just couldn’t see.

i think the real church is supposed to be a crazy, diverse scattering of  little pockets of love, places where the beauty and strength and goodness that is within each person has a chance to come out.  where God and man somehow intersect in mysterious, magical ways.  where Jesus-in-the-flesh is alive and well, calling out hope, forgiveness, purpose, passion, and love.

oh, but to get there with each other will require so much intention, grace, and endurance:

it will require us getting out of our comfort zones and dedicating ourselves to live and love and learn from people who aren’t like us.

it will require humility and sacrifice, confession and forgiveness.

it will require coming face to face with just how much we’d rather keep our hands clean and our hearts protected.

it will mean letting go of our need to just “get fed” and also start feeding.

it will mean smashing down all kinds of idols that keep us safe and sure of ourselves and far away from the living God.

i am thankful that throughout the years i have been transformed by little pockets of love.  very little happened for me in the big venue or the places where everyone was just like or me or where i could easily hide.  but places that called out what was deep within, that forced me to reckon with the really broken and screwed up parts of me, that stuck with me even when i wanted to run away, that pointed me toward God’s real heart for me & challenged me to pass it on–those are the places where i seem to learn the most.

to me, the refuge is a glorious little pocket of love.  it’s not for everyone, i know that for sure.  people who want “powerful teaching and amazing worship” will not be happy here, and that’s an understatement. i like to call it “Jesus school”, and i realized just in this moment that maybe in some weird ways it is closer to precious’ alternative classroom than i’ve even thought about.  some feel more loved than others.  some pass on more love than others.  for some, it’s easy to be there.  for others, it’s harder.  the thing that i feel most deeply dedicated to, though, is somehow doing what i can to cultivate a place where the beauty that’s inside each person has a place to come out.  where people have a chance to know and be known.  to love and be loved.  to grow in hope, in faith, and love.

i know that our little pocket of love is only one expression.  there are many people out there who are finding it in other ways–in houses, in pubs, on the streets, in AA meetings, in homeless shelters, in prisons, in schools, in some regular churches, and in a lot less likely of places.  all’s i really care about is people finding it.  and i do believe that many of us out here reading this are supposed to be part of creating it, nurturing it, cultivating it, whatever that looks like.

pockets of love are places where  the gospel can be lived out through hearts in action.  where Christ’s light can shine into the darkest of places.  where truth can be spoken.  where hope can be borrowed.   where food can be shared, the kind that fills our stomachs and the kind that fills our spirits.

yep, the more i think about it, the more i like this phrase.  the church = little pockets of love.

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.

18 Comments

  • Thanks for casting out ‘the dream’ 🙂 I just smiled as I read the whole thing. love it.

    “the greatest of these is love”… true love truly is the most powerful force isn’t it? but so few really experience it…. true love of God, for God, with God, for others, from others…..because so few ever truly take the time and effort to be intentional about opening up and pouring out and taking in. How can we be ignoring the very most important piece of ourselves – our hearts? Busy-ness, fear, faking ourselves out with distractions, traditions, or idols — all work against being part of a ‘pocket’. The enemy would love nothing more for us to ignore our hearts or cover up our true selves with lots of other ‘stuff’.

    These pockets of love which the church should be – should be a safe pocket that we can tuck into that can be our ‘homebase’ to walk towards healing & fulfillment — and then because of all God does — the preparation & expereince – we should be able to “go” and eventually take a pocket with us wherever He needs another one to be.

    ahh gotta go – thanks!!! 🙂 love, r

    Reply
  • ok back real quick….. been thinkin about this and what really prevents people from true community/becoming part of a pocket together….. and I know there’s so many dynamics to this — but there’s one group or type that comes to my mind… and it’s those people that had “good upbringings” (although we all know how messed up all of us no matter how good it is)…. I find that so many in this ‘group’ (just generalizing big time) just doesn’t see the importance of relationship with others or a family of believers. They have their blood family and sometimes 1 or 2 close friends that have known them forever and to them that’s enough even if they never truly open up to each other. You hear things like … “blood is thicker than water”…. “family is forever”…. “at the end family is all you have”….. “friends come and go but family is forever”.

    Those same people will say they don’t want to air their dirty laundry in ‘public’ and to them public = outside of blood family ….. so we have so far to go. The spiritual family is in so many ways just as important (moreso?) than blood family isn’t it?

    So many in this group “get” the tie and connection of “family”… get the commitment it takes to become a strong family…. but won’t ever let anybody else in “that circle” or even try to have another circle like that. and i guess many times I do fall into that category…. because I’ve never met that many willing to have teh same commitment to their spiritual family as their blood family. they just throw in the towel when things get icky.

    yet with ‘family’ what ties them is their blood, not necessarily spiritual relationship with God so it’s not enough and it’s not the church…..

    but yet true community looks so much like ‘family’ as we know it. is the community not a family in our eyes if the people don’t travel to each other’s homes on holidays? they don’t share a name or look alike? don’t go on vacation together? those are just how some define family… not all…..

    To me it’s just a fine line though – imagine the resentment the blood family would have if they were put ‘below’ a family member’s new spiritual family…… or do we just not care about them?…… and then I think about those I know that are just disgusted with ‘the church’ — because of how a family member ‘ditched’ their blood family for ‘the church’ and then the church wasn’t the one to take care of them when they were in need…

    sorry I know this has nothing to do with your post – but just something on my mind….

    so I guess what I’m saying is…. ture community should look like “family” shouldn’t it? … a true pocket could (should?) hold just as much importance and value as our healhty families now. but that means your pocket can’t be 1000 people big or even 100 people big. 5 – 12 people? you can be part of a bigger pocket – but need that intimate pocket. but for people to truly sell out to that idea — we better treat them like family too. as we would care for own mother, son, sister in trouble… and I just don’t see that….

    Jesus advocated this by telling his mother and John they were now a family – look at your mother, look at your son… from the cross.

    I know people don’t have to have to choose one or another – blood family/spiritual family —- you can love and be part of both……

    but I guess my final thought and what I’m trying to say is..if we want people to truly understand the spiritual ‘family’ and how God describes the spiritual family/church in scripture… we have so far to go! family does not = blood.

    blood may be thicker than water — but love is thicker than blood. geesh I hope that made SOME sense I’m trying to type with raymond climbing all over me hehe 🙂 thanks for letting me ramble.

    Reply
  • Once again, Kathy, you are absolutely right! The church does = little pockets of love. Even for those who have not experienced it, or who are hurting because of some awful abuse that either wasn’t recognized (therefore, healed) or (even more horrific) caused by the family of God, church really does = pockets of love. And, just as we all continue to love our families, no matter how much we/they might get hurt in the ongoing relationship, I believe those who love the Lord love His family and hold out hope for a place of acceptance and joy. After all, that is the heart of God and exactly what He had in mind.

    On a less specific note, I must state once more how very blessed I am by what I read here, as well as at Communitas Collective and Voca Femina. The lot of ya rock!

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

    Reply
  • I’ve only commented on one other blog – ever. I want to see the movie. Reminds me of a friend’s story that the publishers said was too distressing to publish – abuse at the hands of the church. The religious market would find the story deeply offensive and most everyone else would find it disturbing and depressing. The fact that it is true is not the determining factor, nor is the fact that it would be the second book published about this same small town. The first is considered a classic of American literature.

    The church is the body of Christ – wherever and whenever. It is not a building, place, time, program or place to hide out from the world. When Jesus and I go to the dark corners of our world and hang out with people who would never walk inside a building that says “church” – criminals, drug dealers, hookers, strippers, bikers, gay, homeless, stinky, dirty, poor, diseased, and you-name-it – the church is there. The church is even there when we go hang out with the really tough crowd – smug, self-sufficient religious folks sitting in million dollar buildings on hundred dollar chairs singing religious songs.

    You’re getting it Kathy. You’re going with Jesus to some of the places He goes. Are you ready to go with Him all the places He goes?

    Reply
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  • Tammy wrote-
    “The church is even there when we go hang out with the really tough crowd –smug, self-sufficient religious folks sitting in million dollar buildings on hundred dollar chairs singing religious songs. You’re getting it Kathy. You’re going with Jesus to some of the places He goes. Are you ready to go with Him all the places He goes?”

    I appreciate that observation and question a lot. Jesus came for everyone. In the irreplaceable wisdom of the sermon on the mount, Jesus gave us a picture of the kingdom, or the Reality of God. It is a little easier for me (as a “looser”) to know my need of God. I admire those who are not loosers, yet know their need of God nonetheless.
    I think that is the toughest crowd, and one in as much need for little pockets of love as anyone. Very little has been done- we are still separated as rich and poor in the community of Christ. Overcoming that, perhaps, is the final frontier.
    Any suggestions, Tammy?

    Reply
  • No way are you anti – church, it’s not the church you are anti, but -it’s the bull@@@@!!! wrapped up in gift paper masquerading as the church …

    BIG HUG SISTER!!!!

    Reply
  • This is hitting the bullseye Kathy!!! Why is it we can sit next to each other in a worship service, singing songs about the love and grace of God, hearing a sermon and testimonies about it, yet we fail to extend the very love we are there worshipping to begin with??? i think this post and many like it,especially your whole series you did on those who were on the outskirts are the pangs of a new reformation we need as the *church*. Institutional Church,Emergent Church,Leaving Church- all are His people, the called out ones who need to practice the *one anothers* and reach out with *little pockets of love* to each other. Keep on Kathy!!!

    Robert

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  • I have been DYING to see this movie. Read the book some time ago. But it won’t be coming to my little Midwest town any time soon from what I’m hearing.

    If I come over, can we go?

    BTW, saw “Away We Go.” Thumbs way up . . .

    Reply
  • randi – thanks for sharing your heart. i do think there are so many obstacles to love. so much easier to craft a sermon, put together a band & cultivate a program. oh so many thoughts on family, too, but i think the bottom line that you hit on is that it is hard to do. easy to say. hard to do. we are all being confronted with this in so many ways…love & hope to you from afar!

    margret – thanks for your thoughts & glad you’re digging communitas collective & voca femina, too.

    tammy – thanks for taking time to comment. i agree with you–you are being “the church” in the places you are. it doesn’t have any of the things many associate with the word “church” but it sure is a full expression of the body of Christ…i don’t really get your question, it sounded like you meant “you’re going part of the way but you need to go all the way” but i don’t want to put words in your mouth. i guess i’m always a little leery of weighing what “all the way” means because everyone’s in a different spot, with different people, called to different things. i’d love to hear what you meant.

    kellen
    – thanks for the RT

    sage – thanks for your thoughts & question. i do think that great divide needs much work, oh i hope in our little small way we are building bridges toward it.

    mark – oh you always make me smile! i miss you & finally have my reader set back up after switching computers. hugs back to you across the miles….

    robert – thanks for your thoughts & yes, i hope that more and more pockets of love are created. many probably won’t look like “church” but they sure will extend Christ’s love & hope & peace in some amazing ways.

    brian – oh you will dig it. it’s hard but really really good. come hang anytime, it would be so fun! glad you liked away we go, too, that was a sweet little movie. have you seen any other good ones lately?

    Reply
  • It’s a rhetorical question. Are we, the church willing to go to all the places Jesus goes, the dark corners of the world – to the damaged, unlovely, lonely people, people who appear to have nothing to offer, and not just to the pretty people – those like us, people we want to be with, people who have something to offer us? The question may appear to be directed at you specifically, but is actually directed to all of us who follow Jesus.

    Reply
  • brian – oh yeah i missed that one…

    tammy – oh i am so with you, i agree 100% and there is probably nothing i am more passionate about. thanks for clarifying

    Reply
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