actually, the grass is greener

i wrote this post last week but in all of the hubub of jose & i’s crazy trip to kuwait & bahrain never posted it.  sometimes that happens–the moment comes and goes and now as i go to hit “publish” i wonder if i should.  but after my quick trip to the middle east i was reminded yet again of how important freedom is.  following Jesus was originally about setting people free–like really free.  freedom is really, really pretty.  and far too rare. let’s change that.

* * * * *

four years ago, when i was up to my eyeballs in a messy exit from mega-church staff, someone i worked with “went off” on me when it was clear that i was no longer willing to submit to the unhealthy system i was a part of.  he was yelling at me, pointing his finger saying “just so you know, the grass is NOT greener outside of here when it comes to women.  you will never find a place that will value your voice like we do (that was after a decision was made that somehow biblically it was okay for me to teach to the male addicts & outcasts in the recovery ministry, but maybe just not to men who came on sundays).  if you leave, you can kiss all of this goodbye because no one will treat you as good as we will as a woman in ministry.” while i appreciate that it was a tense and crazy moment for all of us & none of us should be held to the nutty things we did and said during those months, i had a friend who was there and reminded me of the abusive, controlling nature of those words. and it’s true; these words did spark fear, confusion, doubt, and intense insecurity.   they made me question “what if he’s right, what if this is as good as it gets and i leave it behind and end up with nothing.  maybe i should just be thankful.” i kept thinking “maybe this is normal and i just need to accept it.”

controlling relationships keep people in fear, confusion, and doubt.  they oppress personal power and make people feel insecure.  they control by manipulating people’s emotions.   they have this funny way of sometimes making people feel valuable on one hand and then treat them in ways that are completely invalidating and contrary to the words that are being said.

i think that “the church” can be very abusive. it is a powerful system that can intentionally & also uninintentionally hook people in and make them feel stuck, disempowered, and insecure.

Jesus came to set people free not to keep them stuck in abusive relationships that rob them of personal dignity and hope.

the church, in my opinion, should be one of the most free, generous, open, inviting, empowering, supporting, encouraging, challenging, strengthening places on earth. it should hold people loosely and allow them to freely choose if they want to be part or not.  it should inspire a culture of security and trust.  it should respect people’s individual power and dignity and help foster it for the greater good of all, not just for the church’s own needs.  it should be a training ground for practicing equality, peace, diversity, and the ways of love.

to be honest, i had forgotten the words that were said to me over 4 years ago about the brown grass i was about to step on back then.  the more i focus on the future, the less i need to look back.  however, my friend reminded me this past weekend after i spoke at transFORM of that horrible moment and how not true my co-worker’s prophecy turned out to be.  yeah, thinking about these words again was a gift because it made me realize how far i’ve come in the past 4 years after entering into the wild unknown of not being “underneath” a patriarchal system anymore.

and i have discovered that for me, yes, actually, the grass is greener:

i can use my voice however i choose and don’t have to worry about someone silencing it or telling me that i need to say this or that instead.

i am connecting with a far wider conversation than i ever would have been connected to if i was stuck in the grind of a system that was focused on feeding itself and not the wider networks.

i have discovered that i’ve learned far more about my faith, about the kingdom of God, about people, about myself, as part of the “losing” team than i ever did when i was on the “winning” one.

i now have seen and tasted and experience gender-equality-in-the-church up close and personal and it’s oh so beautiful.

i no longer have to have ad nauseum conversations about “those messy broken people” and how to get them healed up and serving properly.

i work alongside true friends-and-family-sans-blood who aren’t here for the job or the money or the power or the perks (um, because there aren’t any).   they are here because they are learning how to love and be loved just like i am.

i feel safe.  not comfortable, but safe.  protected.   honored.  treasured.  valued.

best of all, i am free.

free to use my voice.  free to use my leadership.  free to be me.  free to let others be them.

if any of you out there are stuck in an abusive system doubting that grass is greener, i can’t make any promises, but i can remind you of this:  you are supposed to be free.  not stuck in fear.  not silenced.  not excluded.  not laced with insecurity and self-doubt.  no, you are supposed to be nurtured and filled with God’s freedom & hope & purpose.  some how, some way, i believe that’s possible. you might have to look outside of “the system”.  you might find it in places that don’t identify with faith.  you might have to intentionally look in really odd, weird places in order to find it.  but please don’t think that you have to stay stuck where you are because it’s the only green you’re going to find.

yeah, for me, the grass out here is definitely greener.

thank you, God, for freedom.  please, keep setting more and more of your people free to jump the fence, to graze, to roam and find all kinds of greener grass.

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

  • Hi Cathy:

    First of all, I’m so sorry to hear you labored under such an autocratic church system. I know you didn’t tell your story in order to elicit sympathy, but instead to instill hope and vision in others, but still–I’m truly sorry you sffered such treatment.

    Second: In my opinion there is a spirit of religiosity present in many of our churches that is no less strong than the spirit of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day. It is characterized by manipulation and control, which are the only options left when the Spirit of Freedom has left the building.

    Finally, I’m so gratified that you and your family found a community of Christians in which to settle. The fact that there are abusive leadership structures should not keep us from finding a life-giving community–otherwise known as the church. I understand there are many (many!) people wounded by church leaders and members, but I believe Jesus established the church, and we cannot, must not give up on it.

    Peace!

    Reply
  • It’s a sad commentary on the human condition that we tend to solidify our authority and control into progressively tighter structures. We seem to need to justify and legitimize and affirm our power.

    But it is this pythonesque squeezing from others that makes us aware of the wrongness of it all. At some point we snap, reacting strongly against that unjustness, and find true freedom. If it wasn’t for the ever increasing pressure, we might stay within the fence, eating the odd bit of green grass we can find.

    But, we look beyond the fence and see the tall, lush, wild pastures of freedom.

    And then share our stories with others who are beginning to recognize the same journey.

    Thanks for the hope!

    Reply
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  • You made me cry. Cut that out. I think you have helped me to see what Jesus was talking about when he said the last shall be first, and the first last…

    I want to be last… Hell it would seem as if those are my options anyway… lol

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  • Stopping by while wading through my Reader, and am reminded of what a pleasure it is know that someone out there gets it. This is a stunning post, my friend, and I’ve missed you . . .

    Reply
  • I am sending this post to a friend who left the mission field for much needed time with her family and home culture. Her spiritual community was controlling and manipulative in trying to stop her from taking a break she needed. She needs to know she’s not alone, and freedom and community is available in this broken world. I am one of her only friends here in Honduras who supported her desire to make a change in her life. I am glad she took the FIRST STEP to being free of a toxic church situation that had very little compassion, but loads of religion. Peace to you today, Kathy.

    Reply
  • Oh Kathy…I’m glad you decided to go ahead and post this, because it articulates the experience of so many of us! Thank you for your courage in choosing the narrow path you’re on. By telling your story, you give courage to so many wounded, confused sheep – confused by the hypocrisy of leaders who claim to be building the kingdom of God, when in reality they’re building their own “kingdom”.

    As I thought about my own circumstances, King Nebuchadnezzar came to mind, telling Daniel et al. that he would throw them in the lion’s den if they didn’t bow down and worship him. Unfortunately, that seems to be the leadership model for some (many?) church leaders out there. I think at this point in the story we could insert “Jesus wept” as the verse of the day.

    You are a wonderful encouragement. Thank you for breaking free and helping others to do likewise!

    Love Sandy

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  • i am so thankful you left that unhealthy system to do life with us messy ones. there is so much irony in your former coworkers words. the fact that in the last few years this mega church has further stifled the voice of their women leaders. the fact that in the last five months there have been 10,142 hits from 121 countries on this blog of yours. the fact that your voice is not only tolerated, but valued and constantly sought after, in your present community, as well as hundreds of communities in cyberspace, is a validation of your decision to follow your heart and your God. thanx for taking that risk and showing us how to live in His freedom. and helping some of us clueless men see the beauty of equality!!

    Reply
  • Kathy,

    I’ve faced similar challenges only in the realm of attempting to write a book on a subject no one else has broached–book length wise. So grateful for your courage

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  • ray – thanks for your thoughts. and yes, i agree with you, despite all the ugliness that is out there & the wounding things that so many have experienced, i still believe in the body of Christ and that healthy safe (that doesn’t mean comfortable) communities are so possible and worth fighting for.

    jamie – yeah, me, too.

    al – i like that python image, as painful as it is.

    trig – thanks for reading, it makes me happy. jose’s like “who’s k-bar?”

    john – oh i didn’t mean to, but that means a lot. that made me laugh out loud, too, the last part about not having other options. i am with you on that one. and i am oh so glad.

    brian – i have missed you, too, so great to hear from you…

    debbie – thanks my friend. i’m sure joy gave you a good update on transform?

    minnow – it might mean looking in weird places, but you know that already. i sure wish you lived closer.

    laurie
    – oh it makes me happy that in any small way some of these thoughts could encourage someone in that cruddy spot. i am glad she’s getting out. i’m glad she has you.

    sylvia – thanks my dear & faithful friend.

    sandy – i am glad you are part of these thoughts from afar and they are encouraging in some small way. yeah, the whole system is wacked out, isn’t it, and has been for a long, long time.

    mike – who knew, eh? it was one of the wildest experiences of my life, that’s for sure. i am glad you reminded me. thanks for loving karl and i so well.

    dan – oh yeah, i can hear all of those nay-sayers telling you it’s not possible and not that great and not worth it and to just be satisfied with your blog and ….. so glad you didn’t listen and had the courage to go for it!

    Reply
  • Dan Kimball wrote a book titled “They Like Jesus But Not The Church”. Discussing the book and its stories with defenders of the institutional church over the past few years, I have been told that the people Dan talked to don’t really understand Jesus or the church. They have a romanticized view of Jesus, and since they are sinners they obviously are unable to understand the church.

    I think they understand Jesus and the church far better than most church people are willing to admit. Jesus came teaching that we should love God and each other. He came to bring His Kingdom to earth. We responded by forming a religion – complete with employees, positions of power and authority, lots of money and lots of real estate (and somehow Jesus and His teachings kind of got lost). Somehow this reminds me of Peter at the transfiguration, when he wanted to erect three shelters.

    As Brian McLaren says, we should be happy that those churches down the road are meeting the needs of their people, because then we don’t have to. Religion meets some people’s needs, but not everyone’s. Those of us who identify as followers of Jesus rather than religion may eventually find it necessary to move outside the walls of religion to where most of the people live, and where Jesus seems to spend a lot of time hanging out.

    Outside the walls the rules that control people inside the walls don’t have much power. Women can have an equal voice. We’re not required to think that killing people who have the misfortune of living in countries that are political opponents is sanctioned by our violent war-loving God. We’re not required to hate gays or pretend it is our God-given right to poison the earth and future generations. We’re not required to think we’re God’s favorites, as is evidenced by our big houses and big bellies. It’s O.K. to party with tax collectors, gays, the poor, prostitutes, Democrats and …. It’s even O.K. to like them and love them.

    Reply
  • Yes, that python image was graphic. Just catching my breath over here 🙂 Open, honest truth is so powerful in breaking shame in others! Yes!

    Reply

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