why i'm a postevangelical-missional-emerging-ancient future-social justice-progressive-conservative-12 stepping-bible enjoying-"christian"mutt

why im awell that video conversation with my friend john sparked a lot of great thoughts & perspectives!  thanks for your contributions i really look forward to more so stay tuned! meanwhile, for the sake of the conversation on labels, i thought i’d share some additional thoughts that have been floating around in my head for a while as i’ve been observing a myriad of weird conversations related to the “missional’ and “emergent” streams.  as i often say, most people i hang out with in my day-to-day couldn’t give a rip about either one of these words.  at the same time, i have found myself drawn to both conversations & get a little bugged when things start to get ugly & divisive & weird.

i hate labels.  always have, always will. i know they help define things sometimes and have a place in the world & help people organize & clarify thinking; but for the most part, i find them very limiting and can easily become an-easy-way-to-start-a-new-genre-for-book-publishers and start forming what can feel like islands. i also think we can make them too narrow & start lumping people in categories and start journeying toward an adventure in “missing the point.”

i believe firmly that most average, real people living their regular life (not a life consumed by church & theological ideas) don’t really care what people are called or what new or old stream of thinking they are aligned with.  i think the average person is much more concerned with action than belief. practicality than ideas. love in action.  justice in action.  compassion in action.  hope in action. i think for the average person, the proof is always in the pudding.

and i also think there are a whole bunch of people who find themselves in this weird conversation about spirituality, faith & life and don’t fully buy in to any of these streams; they are like me, attracted and thankful for a crazy hodge podge of ideas & groups but not fully aligned with any of them.

recently i’ve just been embracing that is my reality.  and my choice.  i could align more intentionally with certain movements and probably squeeze my way in somehow, but i just don’t have the stomach or the trust or even the desire to do it. i like too many other streams, too.  instead, i think i’m going to lean into the reality that i am a post-evangelical-missional-emerging-ancient future-social justice-progressive-conservative-12 stepping-bible enjoying-“christian”mutt.

 

i think there are a lot of other mutts like me.  and i’ll admit, being a mutt is sometimes a little lonely.  it’s easy to be fully a part of a team or a denomination or a breed; it creates a stronger sense of belonging.  and while i am very grateful for the lovely little niche that has emerged on this blog (and in my faith community) i sometimes feel like i don’t really fully belong anywhere in the wider systems.

  • i am “post-evangelical” in that i can’t fully align with the lausanne covenant or the manhattan declaration.  i don’t agree with a lot of what mainstream evangelicalism stands for anymore, and my views of evangelism aren’t connected to so many of the old terms that i used to be so familiar with.  i am thankful for many things my years there taught me, but it just feels like now when i read what they are talking about and declaring and fighting for they aren’t things i really care about anymore.  despite feeling on the outside of that world, i do believe in evangelism & sharing the good news, it just looks so different now; i remember this post i wrote almost 2 years ago “hmm, maybe i’m a re-evangelist?”
  • i am “missional” because i love the incarnation of Christ here on earth & think that was the big idea that Jesus was getting at.  he “became flesh and moved into the neighborhood” and calls us to do the same. while i have a lot of friends who i deeply respect in the missional conversation, i am often annoyed because it seems like it’s becoming a new exciting trend for most attractional churches now.  of course there are a lot of fringe conversations i love & appreciate, but it seems to me that there’s a group of “louder” voices that i don’t really identify with because the power & voice tends to rest in the boys.  to me it also kind of feels a little like it’s become a new pet project for evangelicals, to become more “missional.”  sorry if that sounds harsh.  i love the incarnational thoughts but still think so many issues of power & equality & what it means to be “poor” aren’t being addressed.  some of the delivery seems to focus on “we are supposed to help those poor people” instead of learning that “we are those poor people.”
  • i am “emerging” because i believe the church is always emerging & should never stop evolving & changing & morphing & experimenting.   most people have questions about faith & life that a pat answer won’t take care of, and i love that the emerging stream has helped provide a place for that kind of honest dialogue.  i also love many of the emergent-y people i have met over the past 4 years or so & the creative and fresh expressions of community that they are experimenting with.  i have sometimes felt loved & included and other times felt totally on the outside looking in at the cool kids do their thing, but i’ll readily admit that is mostly my doing & hesitation to step up and into the conversation more fully.  i think the theology focus just bogs me down sometime, too, and i don’t care enough about some of the lofty conversations to stay in them for long.  but boy am i thankful for their courage & willingness to press the conversation out of the safe confines of where it once was.  i am so sad at what a bad rap so many emergent thinkers have received & i think we should be thankful that they bravely upset the apple cart & take a lot of heat for it on our behalf.
  • i am “ancient-future” (just saying that word makes me laugh for some reason) because i love the spiritual practices and wisdom from the old. i am not a liturgical geek but i like it now and then. i am trained as a spiritual director & appreciate all of the wisdom from the past & the deep value their words have today.  i love candles & quiet now-and-then & space to soak in God’s spirit.  but it’s not really enough for me.  sorry.  i just get bored with the seriousness & intensity, and want to throw a party to celebrate God.
  • i am passionate about “social justice.” i think it’s my responsibility, the church’s responsibility to advocate for those without a voice, whatever that looks like–to stand for the oppressed, the marginalized, those without power &  voice in really practical and tangible ways–through voting, activism, refusing to cooperate with systems that oppress and mistreat.  i think we should be the front-runners on social change & i highly value the work of sojourners & ccda but don’t often know how it all fits into my day to day.
  • i am “progressive” in that i am not afraid to let go of some of the things i once held tightly.  i love ecunemical thoughts & the power of diversity of religious expressions. i love that there are progressive christians who don’t struggle with any of the nutty stuff post-conservatives do and have a lovely ability to embrace God without a lot of the trappings.
  • i am “conservative” in that i’m old school in a lot of ways. i like tradition.  i think we’re supposed to do things we don’t want to do because it’s the right thing to do. i believe in the trinity and God’s spirit at work redeeming this crazy broken world we live in.  i don’t think Jesus was just a good teacher & a nice guy to follow.
  • i am a quasi “12 stepper” and am not afraid of the word “recovery” or “‘healing.”  i think the face of christianity would be different if every pastor/leader gave all their seminary tuition to the poor & went faithfully to 12 step meetings for free instead.   the healing journey in safe, authentic, humble community is powerful.  and i think AA, NA, CODA, al-anon & all kinds of others 12 step processes help with love–learning to love God, others, & ourselves & be loved by God, others & ourselves.  we’ve dismissed so many of their principles because we might not be an “alcoholic” or a “drug addict” or be married to one when in all honesty most people are some-how addicted and have serious control issues.  i don’t go to meetings all the time but i highly value the power & wisdom of these biblical-principles-that-so-often-never-get-applied.
  • i enjoy “the bible” more than i ever have.  i don’t read it all the time. i don’t pick it apart & read everyone else’s opinion on it first. i’m just trying to appreciate its power & wisdom & beauty and what it means for me, for us.  like lots of other great things in the kingdom it got hijacked, and i’m trying to find a way to reclaim it for me.  i am not afraid to say there are so many things that don’t make sense to me, i don’t elevate it above all else, and i honestly keep trying to step back from the need to legitimize or logic-a-tize my responses to the bible based on what other people told me it meant.  i like the thoughts in there, i like the nuttiness of the stories, i like the power of the call to us as individuals & as communities of people.
  • and yep, i am a “christian”! i still use the word, depending on what company i am in, ha, but despite all my questions, i never deny that this is the path that i have chosen, be it right or wrong or anything in between.  since i was a kid i’ve always been drawn to Jesus and have a funny feeling i always will.  and while i value their teachings & respect others journeys in this direction, i do not follow buddha or krishna or allah.  i am into Jesus and am trying to continue to grow and learn what it means to follow him & experience the radical, ugly, beautiful, wild, nutty ways of the kingdom now.   and yeah, i have an awful lot to continue to learn.

when i look back on my life,  it is kind of funny because i’ve always been friends with the jocks & the stoners & the smarty-pants & the special ed kids all at once; my #1 on the strengths finder is “includer”, ha!  but some days i wish i was a pure-bred in one of these streams.  i’d probably be sleeker & smarter & make more money (we all know the term “jack of all trades, master of none.”).  but i think i like my muttness.  it takes off some of the pressure & helps me respect and be thankful for the different ways each of these movements, groups & conversations all shape & form me .

how many of you can identify with being a mutt, too?  what’s the upside?  the downside?

* * * * *

ps: i was almost done writing this post when i read this piece from my blog friend sonja.  thanks sonja for putting to word some of my thoughts related specifically to the recent weird tension in blogland over differences of opinion & theology. i try to stay out of it, honestly, but sometimes i get that sad feeling like there will never be the collaboration & cooperation in the kingdom that so many of us dream of.

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.

25 Comments

  • A great post.

    I think it’s so easy to get caught up in trying to categorize and separate and box, that we get lost in the distractions. Then the distractions become the main thing.

    Instead of that, you’re reminding us what’s at the core, what we’re each bringing, why this emerging conversation is a place for those who don’t fit in the other categories for some reason or another. It’s a positive embrace, and these kinds of posts make me excited about the continued possibilities, even if others loudly proclaim it, or they, are done.

    Reply
  • Kathy…we talked about so much of this on the phone the other day…I totally hear you and I really identify with everything.
    I remember readin Brian McLaren’s book, Generous Orthodoxy, it hit me how important the reflection of Jesus is in ALL Of the various traditions…and squelching anyone of them somehow takes away from the richness and texture of incarnational Jesus.
    Everytime I’ve heard a more evangelical mega community of faith start using the word missional…I get a little excited…wondering what will manifest from their epiphany…so far, unfortunately, at least in AZ where I live, it’s been disappointing. Somehow, there is always a bigger building that needs to be built for ‘missional’ to happen…Maybe that is one kind of missional…but it’s not what resonates with me. (o:
    I love you for keepin’ it real mama.

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  • Hey Kathy, thanks for the shout out … and I’m a mutt too. I loved this post, but when I got to the part where you related your experience in high school of being friends with kids in all the different groups … well, that clicked. That was me too! I could never have a party and invite **all** of my friends because they would huddle in little groups and look at each other. I always hated that. I wanted them to get along. But that never happened. [shrug] I’m still trying though and I live in hope 🙂

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  • I have this theory that wisdom is most often found in balance, and that’s what I was thinking of while reading this. If Jesus is the balance point in all this, then I think often the things that separate these groups from each other are the ways in which they throw their weight away from that center.

    One of many 🙂 things that I like about you is that keeping balanced doesn’t mean that you refuse to go out on limbs or take risks, and the fact that you have not aligned yourself with groups does not mean that you have not heavily invested your heart in community. As I have pulled back from unbalanced investments of myself, I have struggled with wanting to hold back from investing at all. I appreciate the encouragement and challenge that your example is to me in that.

    Once again, a thought-provoking and encouraging post. Thanks!

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  • Thanks so much for writing this, Kathy. I’m with you in a lot of those streams and some others, and like you don’t fit completely into any of them. I have been hoping that we as emerging folks would be able to keep these streams that so many of us cross between together, rather than ending relationships and conversations and such. You help keep that hope alive, with a post like this.

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  • as always Kathy I really resonate with what you’re saying here. I was just typing my thoughts on how I feel like a person of so many contradictions (according to the world). I feel like people probably look at us and think — what the heck IS IT you’re looking for anyway in a community/church…because we want pieces of every ‘movement’ really. Not sold out to any 1 ‘way’ of being/doing. More than anything I just want Jesus and a place to grow closer to Him and allow Him to help me grow in my love for God and others. a community that I am challenged in with people who have the same core values but that can disagree and embrace conflict instead of be scared of it. anybody who looks at the different things we are involved in from the really non traditional discussions and ways of learning and worshipping through art…to the very traditional mentoring ‘program’ for men… and then the middle of the road church… they all don’t seem to go together — and really they don’t – but it’s just where we are right now trying to find our place. seems we just don’t have a ‘place’ — we just have small groups of friends in each of these places. we want the people/connections there and not the structure and negative that goes with it.

    is it possible to find a place where you actually agree with the majority of the way things are done? or will we always just mostly want the people — and have to ‘put up’ with the other stuff we don’t agree with.

    anyway – i’m a mut and don’t really need a label…. but actually part of me really wishes I could say I am part of “this group” — so that I could not have to think for myself and just agree with whatever “this group “says haha… but it seems God doesn’t want that from me.

    I don’t really “fit in” totally in any one group and I think that is the ‘best way’ truly — I love that adults are *supposed* to desire to be around people who are not totally like them. that book Boundaries really taught me a lot about how essential it is to allow people to be different. Children want their ‘best friends’ to be just like them and can’t disagree on barely anything… and as adults we don’t really grow out of that. It’s great to have friends that are the majority like us — but it’s also really important to have friends that are so different from us.

    anyway — i’m so sorry for my rambling. thanks for letting me process as I type. sorry hahaha what a babbler… can I blame it on my preggo brain? 🙂

    thanks as always!!! <3

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  • Oh I totally love this Kathy. I have often felt like I’m wishy washy because of my muttness. (is that even a word?) Your words are giving me freedom in my diverse thoughts on all these groupings.

    For lack of finding one definitive word I have come to use the word missional but I too have felt like it has become a buzz word, therefore not really saying a whole lot of anything.

    I was talking to my husband tonight about this whole emergent conversation thats going on right now on the blogosphere and I was recalling how growing up we were always taught that we were to “be able to give a defense for our faith” And that meant know a lot of theology and be able to articulate to anyone exactly what we believed and who we aligned ourselves with. ie Have all the answers or else! But I’m thinking a greater defense is always your life.

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  • Esther, thanks for your comments – you made me realize some things for sure!

    I too definitely have felt (feel) wishy washy because of not knowing EXACTLY where I fit in/stand on “major” issues or even minor ones.

    I also never thought about how much I feel the need to “defend my faith” — I very much feel the need to KNOW/ be able to articulate exactly what I believed….. and because of positions I have been in… it has been really important to have scripture to back up why I believe the way I do or the direction I’m going… for myself if nothing else I believe when I’m being ‘attacked’ / ‘accused’……. but ultimately even though I will still continue to research/study/seek to be able to know how I interpret scriptures….. I realize that there is rarely a need to ‘defend’ with words….. I know God is so much more concerned with my heart than my head and others I’m sure feel the same… 🙂

    bla bla bla rambling as usual 🙂
    thanks for letting me think!

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  • Hi Kathy,
    I just wanted to say how incredibly generous you are to share your thoughts & ideas with the world – seriously! I am dismayed to find that many Christians, even (or maybe especially?) leaders, are really pretty stingy when it comes to anything other than fulfilling the vision God has allegedly given them.

    It was cool to see you on video! Keep going. I think many church people are secretly mutts, but they’re afraid to let anyone know, lest they be expelled from the purebred club. 🙂

    Sandy

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  • I really related to what you articulated here. And the best part of this post was the acknowledgment that it’s okay to be a mutt. In fact, I think it’s probably desirable. 🙂

    There is so much value in openness to the influence and contribution of a variety of streams… and I especially appreciate an openness to the the voices of the wider, global church as well.

    Reply
  • Here is a little blast from Wiki- kind of an interesting allegory.
    .
    “A mixed-breed dog, also called a mutt, mongrel, tyke, cur, bitzer, or random-bred dog, is a dog whose ancestry is generally unknown and that has characteristics of two or more types of breeds. … “Random-bred” is a genetic term meaning an animal, population, or breed that was bred or developed without planned intervention of humans; and whose ancestry and genetic makeup is generally not known. The most common term is mixed-breed, but that description is technically a misnomer. Along with the term purebred dog, the idea that such dogs are a mix of defined breeds stems from an inverted understanding of the origins of dog breeds. Pure breeds have been, for the most part, artificially created from random-bred populations by human selective breeding with the purpose of enhancing (certain) physical or temperamental characteristics. Dogs that are not purebred are not necessarily a mix of such defined breeds.[1]”

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  • patrick – i really appreciated what you said over on sonja’s post, and thanks for commenting here, too. i agree, we can get lost in the distractions and forget what is at the core. i, too, look forward to future conversations & hearing more and more stories not just what people are thinking but where they are seeing, tasting, experiencing change & hope & transformation, whatever that might look like. hope to hear from you again!

    joy – thanks for watching my back when i lay it all out on the line out here, ha ha. i like what you said: “that may be their form of missional, but that’s not what resonates with me..” i agree, i know it works for a lot of people, the idea of rah-rah missional, but i think there are a lot of us who know deep down that the mission of God is something far more than we’ve been taught. something that strips away all that we once knew. something that requires us to get radically in touch with our own brokenness in order to connect with the brokenness in the world. something that requires us to be far more uncomfortable than comfortable. something that requires us to be in relationship with the least likely instead of just sending money from afar. i could go on and on. bottom line is that it’s all a lot nuttier & lonelier than we probably thought, eh? lots of love to you & emdes, too.

    ron – oh that made me laugh. i hope you’ll still like me, ha ha. did you read john’s comment? so much resonated with a lot that you have written. yeah, i believe Jesus is bigger and wider and vaster and wilder (and more simple) than i think any of our limits & names & semantics & conversations & theories can ever contain & that when we do try to define & limit & make-it-fit-into-something-we-feel-better-about we miss the whole point of the upside-down ways of the kingdom. i do want my faith to get simpler & simpler, stripped down to the essence, discovering what that really means. i taste it sometimes & yep, it definitely supersedes the need for the word “christian” 🙂

    danielle – thanks for the link. always love your thoughts.

    sonja – oh i so relate, everyone gets annoyed with me for inviting too many people but i always want everyone to know each other & get along 🙂

    christen – always love your thoughts & yeah, the pulling away from the center is a great image. even though it might seem like the hodge podge of ideas pull away from the center, maybe it’s even less likely because one doesn’t fill up/weighdown/carry so much more weight than the others and pull it away from its core too much. hmmm, will think about that some more for sure. thanks for sharing. so glad you are part of the convo here.

    jonathan – it will be fun to meet someday (are you going to dc by the way?) yes, some days i have that hope and then other days i read some stuff and it all gets dashed. i think it’s important to do whatever we can, even in very small ways, to nurture friendships and relationships and safe and challenging conversations that help us learn to grow.

    randi – thanks for your thoughts here. i am glad you are digging that book. such good stuff in there. i like changes that heal, too, it’s in my top 3 healing-and-healthy-relationship type books. i think one of the reasons that typical churches don’t know how to cultivate true diversity in community is that it is scary. we like to be with people that think just like us. we find comfort in words that tickle our ears and keep us safe. a divergency of ideas and people and shapes and sizes can be very disorienting and uncomfortable and unfortunately many are looking for “comfortable” when it comes to “church.” i think true kingdom-infused community is anything but comfortable! and in terms of needing to “defend our faith.” oh boy, the part we need to remember is that what the definition of that is was created by man, not Jesus. it’s a great example of how one passage in scripture gets extrapolated into a bit of “here’s exactly how good christians do it.” we need to be so careful about recognizing how much of what we do or think we are supposed to do has nothing to do with what Jesus stirs up in us or what we see in the gospels but rather what we’ve been taught in church by human beings who are sure they “know”. thanks for sharing, randi, it is so fun to see what God continues to stir up…

    esther – oh i love that line: “i think the best defense is always our life.” so good! i am with you! people do not care about words (christians do, but the world doesn’t). they care about actions, the living bible, seeing love & mercy & hope & grace in-the-flesh. this is why we have such a bad rap, too many words not enough action. frankly i think we need to just shut up and quit blabbing about being a christian and actually be one 🙂

    sandy – thanks my friend, i appreciate your thoughts & it is always good for me to hear because some days i’m like “why am i letting myself be this vulnerable, for what?” i think you are so right, lots of secret mutts out there who are afraid to say some of those thoughts swirling around in their head out loud out of fear.

    mary – that made me smile.

    eddie – thanks for reading & taking time to comment, how did you hear about the carnival?

    sarah – thanks for your thoughts & yeah, the big, wider, global church is far bigger than many of us have been taught. the more i learn about the beauty of people across all kinds of shapes & sizes & beliefs living out the values of mercy, justice, compassion and hope, i am humbled and reminded that “western christianity” doesn’t have the market cornered on the image of God alive & well across all kinds of boundaries.

    sage – leave it to you to throw that fun idea into the mix. wow, if you pick that one apart there’s a lot in there. love you, my brother and friend, and couldn’t imagine this journey without you. last night when you served communion with steve and reminded us of the openness of the table & how this binds us together across all of our divergent ideas, it lit up my heart. yes, what’s impossible with man is possible with God. l

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  • Hi Mutt
    This evokes an image of a frisky dawg on the trail to someplace, following her nose, when all of a sudden she stops dead, looks up, ears back, does a raincheck, and lets a howl which says – “Aha! So this is where I find myself!” then promptly puts the nose back to the grindstone, wags the tail, and is off again.

    Great journey. ID with Jack of too many trades, but thanks for the upside there.

    Reply
  • nic – that made me smile. i wish it felt that frisky but sometimes it just feels a little schizo, ha ha. but yeah, i think in the end the upsides for me outweigh the downsides. i really like what christen said about balance. peace to you from afar, thanks so much for taking time to comment, great to hear from you here.

    liz – thanks for the link, always thankful for your voice and perspective out here in wacky blogland. and yeah, grace rules…

    Reply
  • Kathy – I suppose we appear more energetic than we actually feel. We operate in bursts individually, and as a communiteam of God, the mission keeps on going. But I value all inspiration – these moments of grace in which the Queen/King-dom is built. They break in through us, and oftentimes we are the real recipients.

    So as to your blog post – its all about labels, non? I say let’s see labels as icons rather than idols. They are a path and portal to truth and divinity, not as an idol a replacement for these things.

    Even the word “God” is a culture bound symbol given us via the Germanic languages. The One whom we know as our All in All cannot ultimately be named or bound by any one symbol or label.

    So let’s love our labels while they remain relevant. And when they start “going off”, bin them. The labels in this post title, a response to Brians book, are still for me fresh and resonant, and I love the twist you have given them.

    Peace …

    Reply
    • thanks, nic, i read this last night after a really grumpy weird day & it made me smile. i love the thought of icons vs. idols & that it’s okay to “bin them” when we need to. and of course, every day i am struck with the vastness of God & how language and the ways we try to limit can never contain. peace to you & i am glad you are here.

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  • I’m just so glad I’m not alone. I am alone in my ‘real’ community. It’s so nice to read words that feel as if they were pulled right out of my brain.

    I like the term Mutt. I’ve been a veterinary assistant most of my adult life so I can say with great confidence, mutts live longer, with fewer chronic problems. 🙂

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