church refugees part 3 – "spiritual practices"

last one!  phyllis and i had fun sitting at my kitchen counter yacking away about a topic that unfortunately we know far too much about–church refugees.  good, amazing people who for all kinds of reasons have “left” church.  if you are just now reading, check out part 1 and part 2.  i know there are some who might say “why are you promoting church leave-ers” and there are many others who would say “aren’t we over this conversation yet?” and my response is “um, there are lots and lots of folks who are floating-around-out-here-in-la-la-land-and-lost-all-they-once-knew and you might be over it, but they’re not.  they’re gasping for breath, trying to find their way. so whether you understand it or not, it’s real.”

i believe God is far bigger than the institutions and boxes we humans try to put God in.  and i believe God speaks in all kinds of ways far beyond christian small groups & sermons & worship music & the Bible-according-to-the-one-sure-interpretation.   and i also believe that when people are displaced out of all they once knew, sometimes connecting with God, opening hearts up to God, experiencing God is far from easy and free.  it takes practice to break beyond the confines of past spiritual experiences & expectations & all kinds of language & baggage that go along with it.  in this last video phyllis fleshes out some ideas of spiritual practices that can help church refugees open up to new possible ways of connecting with God & themselves in new, unfamiliar ways.

if you are a church refugee, what are some other spiritual practices that have helped you along the way? please share so that others can glean from your experience, too.

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.

20 Comments

  • Thanks for the series! I wish it didn’t speak to me, but it does… I have seen too much, felt too much pain… Our mutual experience was just the final straw in a long line of really really bad church experiences. I have seen the “man behind the curtain.”
    I feel the pressure from others to “get back in the game,” but I just can’t. When I even try to go to church, I either have to emotionally shut down completely, or fight a panic attack. I don’t want to be angry, skeptical/cynical, and sad (when I think of church), but I don’t know how to *not* be. It helps, though, knowing I’m not alone in working through it all (misery loves company? ha). Yet you speak hope, for which I’m thankful.
    If it was just me, I would NEVER go back. But I have kids to think of. I don’t want to put them back in “the system,” but I want them to love God, love the Word, and to be Real… Hard going it alone, but scary going back to Egypt… I have even wondered if I’m not *supposed* to be in church ~~ which would sound blasphemous (ha) to others close to me… Yet why would God keep allowing EVERY SINGLE CHURCH EXPERIENCE to go sour? Is it just me?! Am I not supposed to go? Or am I supposed to be part of encouraging a new paradigm?? What to do…
    Anyway, thanks for being you, for being real, for being bold, and for putting it all out there in the blog. Hugs…

    Reply
  • Hi. I actually did ministry with Phyllis’ daughter while we were going to school together 🙂
    So I can relate to a lot of this. I was a young guy, very committed to serving my church, very responsible and enthusiastic. Well, a lot of people related a lot better with me than with the actual ministry leader and I was continually ostracized and penalized and burdened with extra rules. I was also placed on the outside in a way by my peers because I felt called to go to a 4-year college instead of the church’s Bible school. On top of that a couple women who are very dear to my heart were sexually taken advantage of by men in the church who pretended to come alongside them and be their more mature christian friend. My father who is a very wise and very patient man has been pushed out of leadership because he dared to question one of the pastor’s decisions, even though it was in a very respectful and resonable way. All that to say, I know what it’s like to be an outcast, and I know what it’s like to be hurt by a church that you’ve invested so much in.
    That being said I’m alarmed at how as a christian counselor you’re encouraging people who are feeling hurt and lost to throw away the fellowship, accountability, and discipleship that can really only be found in a church. I was very careful to watch the entirety of each video and understand the whole point of what you were trying to say. Why would the Apostle Paul spend his entire ministry building churches if that wasn’t the way that God wanted us to interact with one another?
    You make some good points, and that must have been a very horrible church if they were so concerned about getting more members and hiring growth consultants and being consumer driven. That is not a church at all. I would like to respectfully suggest that you are equating A church with THE church, which could be a very wrong generalization. It is absolutely wrong when churches push away people on the “fringe”. In Matthew 18:12 Jesus said He will leave the 99 healthy sheep to seek out the 1 lost sheep, and in Matthew 9:12,13 “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick… I did not come to call the righteous, but the sinners to repentance.” I am currently part of a church (in fact related to several churches) that make it a point to welcome the confused, the broken, the alcoholic, the homosexual, and to love them to Christ and out of their sin and confusion in a non-condemnational way.
    Now your church from the perspective you had was certainly not Biblical, and I’m sad to see some of the conclusions you’ve drawn from that.
    In video 2 you refer to church as “The disease of consumerism.” That was your church, not a Biblical church. You also said “Refugees have to belong somewhere.” YES! In a Biblical church that believes it should act as Christ acted!
    You talked about “resisting that tug back to Egypt.” You should know as a church leader that whenever Egypt is used symbolically in the Bible it refers exclusively to worldliness. It is an unbiblical stretch to apply that to the body of Christ.
    In this third video you talk about ways to “feel safe and grounded.” I would like to put out there that especially in times where you are struggling and emotional because you’ve been hurt, feeling safe and grounded is not the same as being safe and grounded. Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” The worst possible thing for someone who is hurt or new to the faith or ungrounded is to venture out away from the institution built by Jesus and His apostles to give us strength. 1 Peter 5:8 says “Be sober and vigilant, for your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour.” How do lions pick their prey? The weak ones who separate from the group. I’m just worried that people will watch these, hear you say to go out and make nonbelieving friends and not “be concerned about their soul”, and “look at people with no Christian filter and no agenda.” People are going to hell every day. If we follow Christ we need to be concerned all the time about the state of people’s souls as God is. 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” Life is too short and uncertain to spend it hanging out with people headed to hell without being passionate for their salvation and doing everything possible to point them to Christ, and I have seen it personally over and over and over again where someone in a rocky point in their walk with God starts giving more and more time to non believers who can do no benefit for them spiritually, and they ended up pulling further away from God than they were before.
    It would be good to remember 1 Timothy 2:1-6. Here, where it talks about God’s desire that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of Him, it talks about intercessory prayer. You say to just not try to get the right words out and to light a candle instead. DID JESUS CHRIST GIVE HIS LIFE AND TEAR THE VEIL SYMBOLICALLY SEPARATING US FROM GOD SO WE COULD “PRAY” TO GOD WITH A CANDLE?!? We are told by Jesus Himself exactly how to pray to the Father in Matthew 6, and Paul says “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
    We don’t need a new way to seek God or a new way to pray like you say in this third video, we need to get back to what the Bible says about prayer and fellowship and discipleship.
    Here is what the Bible says.
    The church exists for accountability- Hebrews 13:17
    Fellowship is not optional- 1 John 1:7, 1 Corinthians 12:21
    We are to comfort one another- 1 Thessalonians 4:18
    We are to build one another up (on the solid, unchanging foundation of scripture, not teaching each other to act on feeling sorry for ourselves) 1 Thessalonians 5:11
    We are to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other- James 5:16
    We need to minister to each other- 1 Peter 4:10
    And “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.”- Hebrews 10:25

    I believe with all my heart that by telling “church refugees” to walk away from the Body of Christ (you said you were a “Pastor” which is Latin for “shepherd”), instead of protecting the weak and injured of the flock, you are telling them to go ahead and leave the herd and play around in back where they have room to stretch out. All the while Satan is having a field day, because that’s EXACTLY how a lion hunts (1 Peter 5:8).
    I say this only out of concern for those people who have been hurt like I have. I have a huge heart for the outcasts and the people on the fringe who don’t have ulterior motives, they just want to love God. The church is imperfect, yes, but how will these people be ministered to if you walk away? Isn’t it better to change the wrong things? Especially as a leader! Saying that your messed up church (which you said you were a leader of) is synonymous with the Body of Christ, and that both should be shunned, is wrong. Even as you made this video people said “Why don’t you start a group?” What would that group be? An extension of the Church! It would be another church just as full of sinful and imperfect people as the next. As the old saying goes “If you don’t like church because there are so many hypocrites, you should come on by because there’s always room for one more.”
    I am passionate only out of concern for people who are hurting, the same as you two ladies are. Please, if you have issue with what I said, really look at exactly what the issue is with it and see if it’s not actually an issue with the Bible itself. I didn’t do this in any way to attack you, but you made your public proclaimations that I feel further endanger already at-risk people, so I was compelled to reply in an equally public way.
    The God of the Bible has never changed, and His Word never changes, and to say they do is to worship a false god.
    Thank you, and may we all pray and seek God on His will for ministering to the people He loves so incredibly much.

    Reply
  • Hey Kathy and Phyllis – Thanks so much for this little video series. My husband and I have taken each video and watched it together and then discussed it. Great talks have come from this. I think my man understands me a little bit better because of your words. 🙂

    Once again, wish we could just chat in person but I will say I related to so much of this. I am really going through an allergic reaction right now. I was recently asked to be part of a christian woman’s book group and my reaction was definitely one of allergic reaction. I just keep saying “I just can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”

    Somehow I have discovered these 4 or 5 suggestions you lay out Phyllis on my own. I think the biggest hole in my journey though is finding people to talk to. My husband is awesome about hearing me out but sometimes I long for more.

    I was actually sharing with a new friend this past weekend about how I just can’t “do Bible studies anymore” and her response was one of “hm” and nothing else. I found myself leaving that interaction insecure. But when I unpacked that feeling I realized it’s partly my own fault that I’m feeling insecure.

    I have not fully come to a place where I am comfortable saying, Bible studies, etc. worked for me in the past but they do not any longer and the path I’m forging is different and it may not fit under the tradition Christian umbrella.

    Anyway there is always lots to say. I just wish the journey did not always feel so lonely. Connecting with you all through the internet is great but it would be nice to have some people in closer proximity – like say up the street 🙂

    Thanks again ladies – keep it up – you are pastoring and counseling from afar.

    Reply
  • Actually I have to add I am okay saying I can’t do Bible study, etc. stuff, it’s that I am not comfortable in my head after I walk away from those conversations because there is fear of not being looked at like a “good Christian” any longer. As if someone has a market on what that even looks like!

    Reply
  • Thank you to both of you for this series!

    My comments are mostly in response to Matt’s. I think it is wonderful that Matt has found a great church that he feels is “Biblical”. In my experience such churches are exceedingly difficult for most of us to find. In working with many people who have left churches, I have discovered that most have tried several, and have had bad experiences at every one they tried. (None of those “churches” looked or smelled anything like Jesus.) Often they just give up and want nothing to do with any church. This often includes giving up on God, Jesus and the Bible, based on all the crap they have experienced in the churches they were part of.

    I watched all three parts of this series three times each, and I have a much different take on what I am hearing. I am hearing the suggestion that those who have left, the refugees, find ways to remain in Jesus and keep contact with “the” church, which is the people of God, Jesus’ followers, not necessarily the church down the street, which may or may not be a good example of followers of Jesus. This is much preferred to tossing God, Jesus and the Bible on the garbage heap along with the unfavorable experiences from churches X, Y and Z.

    If there is one correct interpretation of Scripture, then most churches and theological traditions are in error, since there is a multitude of interpretations of most Scripture. Visit a top notch second hand bookstore that has a large selection of commentaries. Choose a dozen from a variety of publishers and theological traditions on whichever book of the Bible you like, and read them. You may be shocked at the broad scope of “interpretation” on all sorts of verses and topics. If Scripture has just one “correct” interpretation, how does one explain this? They definitely do not agree on what the Bible says on just about every topic. Not everyone agrees about what the Bible says about the “proper” method of baptism, the role of women, or about prayer, fellowship and discipleship.

    If we don’t spend time hanging around “with people headed to hell”, then how shall they hear? Do we really think they’ll read the Gideon Bible in some motel and decide to follow Jesus? Perhaps we should rent a plane and throw Bible tracts out the door over our city? SO MANY people in our culture are turned off to religion and churches. They’re not going to check out any church, read the Bible, a tract or whatever.

    Yes, we believers do need to meet together, encourage and help each other. And that’s the end of the line for most people I know who attend most churches. They do not hang out with the lost and talk to them about Jesus or do much of anything to show them the love of Jesus. They hide in their churches. They live in a religious bubble. They’ve got their ticket to heaven punched. It’s not their problem if their relatives, neighbors, coworkers and the clerks at the grocery store don’t. It’s not their responsibility to do anything about it. Those dirty sinners might pollute them and turn them into sinners too. We just can’t depend on God to keep us safe in the company of sinners. Actually, I think they’re “chicken” to talk to people about Jesus.

    I do not hear Kathy or Phyllis telling anyone to walk away from the Body of Christ, or that some “messed up church” is synonymous with the body of Christ. Nowhere does anyone say the Bible or His Word (actually, Jesus is the Word) have changed. No one is worshipping a false god.

    Perhaps my computer is giving me a different series. Perhaps I don’t understand the English language. Or perhaps we all have very different understandings on these issues. However, I hear only one voice here saying THIS is what the Bible says and if you don’t agree you’re worshipping a false god. That is extremely presumptive.

    Reply
  • I will not waste a lot of time arguing. That was the whole reason for me trying to pull my arguments directly from Scripture, so people can choose to reject the scriptural points rather than go back and forth about who is right or wrong.
    If you have fellowship with other believers and it includes studying the Bible, confessing your sins to each other, Biblical exhortation, discipleship, and accountability, then yeah, that’s exactly what the Church is, and I don’t think it has to be in a building(see my previous scripture references). You just have to be very careful because we’re also called to serve in ministry and give of ourselves, and without some kind of structure it’s just very very easy to fall out of those responsibilities.
    In regards to commentaries and different interpretations, I don’t think you should be getting your ideas from a commentary about what the Bible means. Martin Luther said that scripture interperets scripture, and 2 Timothy 2:15 says “study to show thyself approved before God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” I think most Christians (including myself)are lazy and that ALL of us should take it upon ourselves to learn the Greek and Hebrew and to take the most precious treasure in the world, that is the Word of God which He has preserved for us, and to take care of it and handle it with the upmost reverence. Devout Muslims ALL learn to read the Q’ran in its original Arabic. If they’re that devoted to a lie, shouldn’t we be at least that devoted to the truth? Yes, there are some small issues that it would be possible to have different interpretations on, but the Bible is complete and detailed and would leave no room for error or dissention on big issues.
    As far as our relationship with nonbelievers, if you read what I said again, I didn’t say not to hang out with them, but rather to hang out with the “agenda” of seeing their souls saved so that we can have the ultimate friendship and fellowship with them in Christ. I hang out with nonbelievers all the time, and I have many nonbelieving friends, and I don’t start every conversation with “You need to know Jesus.” You can bet that they know where I stand on my belief in God and the Bible. You can bet that I pray for the salvation of their souls. You can bet that I’m always asking them things to find out what they believe and what’s keeping them from trusting in God. Just about every action and every word in those relationships is done to win them over and win them to Christ, and guess what, nonbelievers LIKE being my friend. I don’t start by telling them their sin. I start by accepting them like Jesus did and showing them (with actions AND words) what I stand for and that I care about their soul. To be honest I feel convicted that I don’t talk about Jesus and what He’s done for me more with my nonbelieving friends.
    I would just like to note again that my intent was to form my argument based on scripture, not what Matt thinks. I’m curious if you have Biblical arguments against what I said. That would be an interesting and I think edifying conversation where we could stand to learn more than just going back and forth on what we feel.
    I would like to thank Kathy and Phyllis for allowing my comment to be posted even with me disagreeing on some things. Please believe that I do care deeply about people who aren’t the goody-two-shoes church goers (which is the whole purpose of these videos). In fact, I normally don’t get along with those people. I’m all about seeking out people who are real and honest and flawed and hurting because those are the people Jesus took time with. Thanks,
    Matt
    Psalm 119:47,48

    Reply
  • Hi Matt and Sam,
    I’ll pop in here and hope that we can continue to have a good and respectful discussion.
    I see both of you as devoted, deeply caring lovers and followers of Jesus. That is obvious.
    I guess what I’d like to bring into the conversation is mostly with Matt. I think that the central question now is the same as it was at the time of all of the previous reformations in the history of the body of Christ called the church- namely, “Where is the authority”?
    There were scriptural references on both sides of the Great Schism, The Roman Catholic church claims the succession of power thru the Pope based upon scripture, And Luther and the other reformers made scripture supposedly self-referential in it’s authority.
    It hasn’t helped.
    In every case, culture took over and re-made religion into it’s own image. The distortions that happened (over time) under the authority of “the Pope” became (over time) distortions under “the authority of the bible”. Instead of solving the underlying issues of the corruption of authority that took us away from Jesus, the problems of authority got transferred to a different thing. Instead of a ring and scepter Pope, we now have a paper pope.
    I’m sure glad that the holy word of God is not limited to the stack of paper there, or our “thru a glass darkly” renderings of it, or culturally derived conventions of it.
    Christ himself is the word, and in him I find authority.
    Of course the best book to read about Jesus is the bible, and so I appreciate it now more than ever.

    Reply
  • It hasn’t helped? We went from a system where the pope and those under him tyranically abused complete authority and purposefully kept people from reading the Word of God for themselves and offered forgiveness of sins through the church for a price, to having a system where people are free and encouraged to read every word and to know God personally for themselves without a man in between. The papacy is based on one verse that was twisted, not scripture as a whole. Any time anybody takes one verse and bases a movement off of it, you get a wildly out of control, very unbiblical and unaccountable movement such as word of faith (Matthew 21:22) and the catholic church (Matthew 16:18). The funny thing about Matthew 16:18 is that Jesus tells Peter, “You are Peter (Greek “petros”-stone) and on this rock (Greek “petra”-large rock, potruding stone) I will build my Church…” If you look where the word “petros” is used (you should ALWAYS cross-reference anything that seems possibly controvercial or big enough to affect your theology), it is always in reference to Peter’s name (all 157 times in the Bible, I checked each one). In fact, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states that “Petros” is used metaphorically of a “soul hard and unyielding, and so resembling a rock.” Now, “petra” on the other hand was first used in Matthew 7 in the parable of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house upon the “rock” (petra), which is the word of Jesus, i.e. the Gospel, or the Word of God. It is also used to describe the large rock that the temple was built on and the rocky hill that Jesus’ tomb was hewn into. We’re talking a mountain-sized boulder vs. a little stone. So basically, what Jesus was saying to Peter is “You are a small, stubborn, and hard-hearted man, and on this solid rock of my Gospel the church will be built.” The catholic church took that verse without the same cross-referencing that took me less than an hour and based the papacy and model of a single man being in charge of the Body of Christ on it.
    I only went through that exhaustive example to show how dangerous it is NOT to base your theology on careful STUDY of the WHOLE Word of God. What we have now is the exact opposite of the catholic church where the Word of God is now in the hands of every person who wants it, and rather than a very select few hoarding the knowlege found in the Bible, everybody is taking it and flippantly using parts of it taken out of context to serve their purposes.
    VERY important note by the way, Martin Luther did not make scripture “self-referential” in it’s authority, it always has been.

    2 Timothy 3:16- “ALL scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”

    Matthew 5:18- “”For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (In context that the Old Testament is still relevant).

    In Galatians 1 (you should read it because the whole chapter is relevant) Paul talks about how the Gospel is not made up by man, and if anyone brings a different gospel, or preaches about a different Jesus than the one found in the gospels, then they are a false teacher.

    All that to say, God’s word is THE authority, and so many people have claimed that God has given them brand new revelations and brand new ways to think about Him (Joseph Smith who founded the Mormon church, Mohammed, who founded Islam, and Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Christian Science cult all said that the angel of god came and gave them new revelation about what God was REALLY like).
    The Bible is our anchor and doesn’t change as popular movements wax and wane. Anything we think we hear from God or that we feel about God needs to be double checked with scripture.
    Galatians 1:8 says that even if an angel of heaven preaches another gospel, that it is false.
    I really don’t understand your arguments Sage and wonder what’s behind them if anything. You relate the Body of Christ to the dark ages catholic church because you think the Bible is just like the pope? What does that even mean? “Christ himself is the word, and in him you find authority”? What does that mean? Do you reject scripture if you feel that Jesus is telling you something in your heart? How do you know it’s Jesus? 2 Corinthians 11:14 says Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
    I would like to know what “distortions” have come about from the “authority of the Bible”. That’s the problem, you say those big things but you’re not specific. Yes, people twist the Bible and use parts here and there because they take part of it and reject others. Either you embrace the entire Word of God and learn it and treasure it so that you know what it says and you can spot lies, or you reject it as the ultimate authority. No distortion could ever possibly come by thorough knowledge of the Bible. The more you know the Bible, the more clearly and completely you understand God Himself.
    It’s starting to sound a lot like relativism where there are different truths for different people and there isn’t ONLY one thing that is true. That’s wrong. There is one specific thing that everything in the Bible means, and that one thing is what God intended it to mean, not what people think it should mean. Now, if you happen to understand what God meant through it, then congrats, you have a right view of the one truth about that particular thing. I don’t claim to have every single truth right. I study hard and have been dedicated pretty much my whole life to understand what the one real truth is.
    That’s why I’m trying to get people to have a discussion with me based on what the Bible says because that’s the only way that this will get anywhere. You can say “well that’s what you think and this is what I think” all day long, but just know that there is only one truth. If I’m wrong, I want to know it, but you have to base it on something. I have the Bible which is the total and complete Word of God that I’m basing everything off of because God says that we can trust it (see previous references). If you don’t believe that you can base your theology on the Bible, then it’s all just a crap-shoot because who can say who is right and who is wrong?
    “Well I feel that God told me this about Himself…”
    “Well He told me the opposite of that and I feel it very sincerely in my heart.”
    That kind of talk is worthless. Relativism is logically flawed because it’s based on the premise that there is not one absolute truth about everything. Well that in itself is an absolute statement. If you say that one thing is right for one person and another thing is right for another person, that means that the “one universal truth” that is right to me can’t possibly be right to me because that would mean it would have to be right for you too, which you don’t believe it is, which means what’s right for me isn’t actually right for me and that YOUR truth has to be right for me, which makes your initial argument false. If absolutism is right, then the truth is the truth no matter what anybody thinks about it.
    I just wanted to cover my bases because I’m done arguing about solid knowable truth vs. relativism and feelings. I only keep talking because I care about this and believe it’s important. I’m trying to illicit some real and deep Biblical discussion that’s based on something concrete instead of shallow generic statements going back and forth because we “feel” differently. Does that make sense?

    Reply
  • Oh how I so love series from the carnival!!! 🙂 It is a really good reminder of how lonely, dark, and scar-y the “in-between” world can really be. I remember when I could no longer stomach the fellowships that I was a part of and knew about, and thinking like Two Boys Mom up there, um, what will my *future* children do now?

    The passage of time when things were not working anymore (*reference) : http://kathyescobar.com/2010/02/17/the-wall-the-wilderness/ and the current season of thriving hope was *actually* one of incredible spiritual growth. Having been “in the system” for so long, I was sure that being “not of this world” meant that so many things that did not have a specific Christian label, fish stamp, or Bible verse attached were inherently wrong. There was a lot of beauty in songs & books that I missed out on, and was able to re-integrate into my life.

    I also will say, for the record, that what I hear in the videos (and from have the fortune of knowing both the fabulous women in them) that the issue is not a fleeing from “church”. Rather, both are avid supporters of true safe communities, and that includes, not excludes, some churches.

    *However, there are those that have been so deeply and profoundly hurt by church systems, myself included, that need tools to help heal if they should ever choose to venture out again.

    I really believe that had I not risked & done the hard work to process through the pain (aformentioned in above chart), there would be no way that I would have chosen to be a part of the faith community where I found hope again. I am ridicuously thankful, now, for the pain of the awkward refugee stage, for it was then that I found courage & desire to try, try, try again. 🙂

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  • Matt,
    What I am saying is that the Word of God is larger than we have made it out to be.
    The heart of the church and the bible is relationship; relationship based upon Love, which comes only from God. God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God in one another. Meaning is best carried by stories. Stories in the bible, our stories shared with one another in the context of God’s love. Confession, forgiveness, service, pride, humility- all stories.
    Since the age of enlightenment we have felt compelled to put faith into a logical framework. The bible is not that kind of a how-to manual though. The Bentley service manual for my car (about the size of a bible) is way more “factual” than the bible. If I wanted to jump out of the realm of rationality to support the importance of my service manual I could say that the text is “manufacturer breathed”. There are still mistakes in it though, and it doesn’t tell me anything about the origin, purpose, destination or meaning of my vehicle.
    As to relativism, I am not saying that anyone can just go on their feelings or gut instinct.
    You wrote-
    “Relativism is logically flawed because it’s based on the premise that there is not one absolute truth about everything. Well that in itself is an absolute statement. If you say that one thing is right for one person and another thing is right for another person, that means that the “one universal truth” that is right to me can’t possibly be right to me because that would mean it would have to be right for you too, which you don’t believe it is, which means what’s right for me isn’t actually right for me and that YOUR truth has to be right for me, which makes your initial argument false. If absolutism is right, then the truth is the truth no matter what anybody thinks about it.”
    The notion that everyone has to believe the same exact thing in exactly the same way in order for any of it to be true at all is a cultural construct of flawed rationalism. I believe that God’s love for us is absolute, and his invitation to follow Jesus is eternal. That includes studying the bible and all of the other usual things.
    If you ask if I use the title “Christian”, it depends. For me it is a salvage title, like a car that has been in a wreck and totaled out by the insurance company. The journey means a lot to me, but I won’t feel crushed if other people don’t think I qualify.

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  • yikes, i am sorry i am just now responding. with 4 kiddos at home all day & all kinds of other usual nuttiness, i just haven’t been online. i always appreciate people taking time to share. i also respect that sometimes we see a lot of things differently. anyone who knows me know probably-to-a-fault passionate i am about community & the body of Christ. i believe God is alive and well and working through people despite ourselves. i also have a huge heart for exiles and refugees and those who just can’t-do-it-anymore-and-i-don’t-blame-them and will stand on the tables to defend and honor their voice, their story.

    two boys mom – oh your response makes all this blog nuttiness and potential criticism so worth it. thanks for your honesty and sharing where you are at. i think the very hardest part for me is respecting that it does indeed “work” for lots of people the way it is, but once that weird thing deep inside shifts, it is really rough to try to make-what-we-somehow-know-doesn’t-work work. i get the kid thing, too. that complicates things for sure but i am more convinced after being out of typical children’s programming for over 4 years now that my kids being in a loving, caring, community of grownups/kids all mixed together, loving each other, eating together, learning about God-in-lots-of-ways-that-aren’t-just-found-one-hour-a-week is beautiful and meaningful. i think regardless of the size, there is so much to be said for those little pockets of love that are “the church” but don’t really get counted as it because it looks so different. oh, i will be thinking of you, maybe one of these days we can hook up for coffee or ?…it would be fun to catch up.

    matt – well i don’t have a ton to say in response that will satisfy the whole toe to toe scripture thing so i will go with “yes, we just see things very differently.” i appreciate you taking time to share your heart and what you are passionate about and i am sure that that tactic works for some. it is not usually the most helpful for church refugees. i will also say that it’s very dangerous to make assumptions that someone who is not going-to-a-church-that-meets-the-qualifications-according-to-? is somehow treading on dangerous ground. i know so many amazing people who have found community in other forms than the typical. safe, healing, challenging, loving community is the idea and there are all kinds of beautiful forms of it. that is always what i hope people find. in terms of scripture, i don’t think one person or group has the market cornered on the absolute meaning of each and every word of it. i respect it’s interpretation & that we see it differently, but always cringe a bit when people start throwing it at me saying “if you don’t believe it this way you are misguided and not following the truth.” really what that says is: “you are not following it the way i think it is supposed to be followed.” peace to you on your journey. how did you come across this post, by the way?

    esther – oh thanks for sharing. i can sooo relate to that weird and awkward moment where you say “i just can’t do….” and the response is just so uncomfortable. i am glad that you have used these conversations as a launching point to more conversation. oh i wish it weren’t so lonely and weird at first, living in this strange in-between, but i really respect that you are seeking, asking God to show you, and bravely stepping into what you can and can’t do, at least for now. i do look forward to staying in touch across the miles.

    sam – thanks for your thoughts. i do appreciate that the spirit and heart of these conversations did, indeed, some through. that is who they are for. i love your courage and your passionate heart for people and your willingness to call out some of the absolute nuttiness of the system. it always makes me feel a little less crazy…

    stacy – i think that “in between” place is so lacking. it’s like there are solid places if you’re “in” and there are a million choices if you throw in the towel completely but what about all the in-between-ers? oh, but in-betweeners don’t pay the bills, do they, ha ha. you are seeing up close at the refuge what it’s like to have everyone all mixed up together with the one thing that we have in common is desire to keep growing and learning and that somehow our relationship with God and with people are all tangled up together. thank you for your voice, your journey, your safety for others out in the wilderness.

    sage – thank you for your thoughts, as always, and i think the summary i always have in these moments is: if we could actually channel all of the time and energy the world has wasted on picking apart the ins and outs of who’s-got-it-right-and-who’s-got-it-wrong and concentrate on loving our neighbor, God, and ourselves in really tangible practical ways that we’d live in a far different reality. i love the Bible and all its complexity and beauty and uncertainty and clarity and for me, living the Bible has always been the idea that somehow is so easily lost sometimes.

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  • Hmm… the things Matt wrote are familiar. I used to write like that. 😐

    Allergic is a good word for what happens. While I was in the bubble, I read the bible every day – minimum of 5 chapters. I lost count of how many times I read it through. I used to think it was the only “Word of God”. After leaving the bubble, I continued that for a while, but at one point, I reached a place where I just couldn’t read it any more. It was all tangled up with the cult teachings and I wpent over a year where I didn’t even pick it up.

    I can read it now, but I see it differently. I do not believe that it is unerring anymore. (Wow, that still feels a little scary to actually say!) Any translation is only as good as the intilectual integrity and ability and instructions/purpose of the translator. And there are so many translations and they don’t all say the same thing. I remember my former pastor saying the the King James was the only “word for word” accurate translation and we should stick to that. Sigh. It actually isn’t. King James told the translators that when they came to a place that they were not sure of which way to interpret a passage, they should always lean toward interpreting in favor of Church of England doctrine. It’s amazing what you find when you get hold of an interlinear bible or even a copy of Young’s Literal Translation. I am now an advocate of having as many translatoins available as you can handle and read them all – especially when you come to a passage that you are struggling with the meaning of. As to the Word of God, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” God did not stop speaking when the bible was cannonized. 🙂 Thank God! And I know this will bother those still in the buble, but just last night, while reading some passages in 2 Timothy with a friend, I was reminded that I do not have to agree with Paul – and that I especially do not have to agree with the interpretation the translator gave to Paul’s letters.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing this series. I still will visit the refuge if I’m every in Denver over a weekend…

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  • If we reject the Word of God we have nothing to stand on, and become just like almost every other religion in the world where people just make it up as they go. God exists outside of human control, therefore no matter what we say or believe about God, He is what He is and we either believe the right things about God, or some wrong things about God. Everything that is said about God whether it be the Bible or your pastor or you is meant to convey the truth of who God is, not to define who He is. If you look at a chair and say “That chair is brown” and another person looks at the chair and says “I really feel like that chair is blue”, neither of you are defining what color the chair is, you’re only conveying what you believe to be the truth about the chair. The chair is either brown, or it’s blue. Some of you don’t seem to understand the concept of absolute truth, which would be redundant to go into again.
    It seems like Katherine has made the choice to reject the truth of the Word of God in favor of what she feels to be true. Like I said before, we should not just take the translator’s word for what the Bible means (which Katherine and I agree on). Where we differ is that she says because the translation isn’t perfect, we should just reject what doesn’t sound good in the Bible. I say we get back to the original Greek and Hebrew and follow what 2 Timothy 2:15 says and “Study to show yourself approved, a workman that doesn’t need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
    2 Timothy 3:16,17- ALL scripture is God-breathed and is useful for doctrine.
    2 Peter 1:20,21- “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

    So either you take those statements and say they are false, which means the entire rest of the Bible could be a fantasy, or you take those words to be true and that God has preserved His perfect Word for us so that we can know who He is for real (like a written description that the chair is in fact brown so that we know it is not blue no matter what we feel like). If the Bible is fantasy in part or whole, then what’s the point? Why believe anything it says? Why believe that there’s a God? Why believe that He loves us at all? Why believe that there is any hope when we die?
    I recommend you pick up a copy of “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel, or even better “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh McDowell and see that there are many evidences that the Bible is true and accurate. People who believe like Katherine that the Bible is not the truth and that we can’t trust everything it says are in serious danger of giving in to their laziness and disdain for scholastic investigation of the truth and getting a view of God that is so skewed that He ceases to resemble the One True God and becomes their own little god who serves their purposes. Many many people who are much more intelligent than me (and you for that matter) have put in the time to study and have found that the the Word of God stands up to scrutiny. They were not lazy and took the time to really look into it instead of running into a difficult thing to understand and throwing it all out the window.
    I really don’t understand how I present a throrough and evidence-based argument with references to back it up, and you argue back by saying “I used to think that way and I don’t anymore” and you think that sounds convincing in the least. All that means is you abandoned whatever diligence/dedication you had when you were “in the bubble”and decided to just put away the Bible, do away with the accountability of fellowship and discipleship, and just tell God who He is and is not based on what you feel about Him.
    All I’m asking is that you consider the worth of really truly putting in the work to study the claims in the Bible before you just toss it out because you have some personal struggles with it or with the church or whatever.
    I continue to appreciate the honesty. Either people’s faith in the Word of God will be strengthened by this, or they will decide as some of you have that they don’t actually believe the Bible and they would rather define their own god apart from the Bible. It’s better to be in a position where you’re honest with yourself and say that you don’t believe the Bible is the Word of God than to say that you do when you really don’t.

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  • I would just like to say that I haven’t spent so many words defending God or the Bible. They’re true no matter what anyone believes. I’m trying so hard just because I care about people who feel like this and want to help make sure they know the basis of the decisions they are making and how it relates to the Bible.
    I actually checked out the “Refuge” website and if they stand by their statement of faith, it seems like a great place. Wish all churches were that dedicated to people who were hurting like they should be.

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  • katherine – thanks for sharing, as always. it really would be so fun if one of these days you could come hang out with us. i know so many who are exploring the scriptures in different ways, finding ways to connect with it after a season of not even being able to crack it open. it is beautiful.

    matt – it sounds like you have a really sincere heart, and i know you are very passionate about this subject, but i have to say that i am going to have to shut you down from this conversation here if you keep going about it the same way. i have rarely said that on the carnival and do everything i can to let everyone’s comments flow, i never edit or delete any of them. but at the same time, your specific comments related to katherine’s connection to the Bible pushed me over the edge because it is very condescending, dismissing, and unsafe. i get that you disagree with some people who have commented, that is so fine, but this is my living room and i will do everything possible to keep it safe. one of the most important guidelines in our living room when we gather on wednesday nights for our house of refuge is to stick with “I”, our own experience, strength, and hope, and to not offer advice or try to fix anyone but to listen well and respect that there’s a wide range of diversity in the room. in my living room, if you started talking this way to someone who was sitting here, i would call a time out and not allow the conversation to continue that way. it just is unsafe communication and never serves anything except to hurt people. i don’t believe that’s your intention at all, i am not saying that. i am just offering some feedback and perspective on what it feels like to me. as i’ve said, i do everything i can to make this a safe space (and extra safe for church refugees). i appreciate your passion and believe it comes from a very sincere place, but i want to be clear that this is not the place to start jumping on people and spouting bible verses and telling them they are lazy. thanks for respecting that, i would really appreciate it. peace to you on your journey.

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  • Kathy and Phyllis,

    What a great conversation. Thank you, thank you. Love the videos – I cannot even imagine how much typing it would have taken to capture what you said in the 30+ minutes of talking. 🙂

    Having not been on your site for a while (where have I been?) – I watched all 3 videos in back-to-back. which means I am leaving all my comments here.

    I’ve been labeling myself as ‘church alumni’ – but I’m thinking “church refugee” is more accurate. As someone who was on staff at a mega-church for 5 years and had been part of the community for 15 years, my grieving was great in losing that community of believers. And what I have found on the “outside” is so much richer, I am grateful for the journey.

    (side note: Matt – it was very hard for me to read through what you said and how you spoke to others, and indirectly to me. As someone who now considers herself part of the “church refugee” community, do you think I arrived at this place without knowledge of the Bible and a relationship with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit? Really? – this was not a choice made lightly. I tried very hard to initiate conversation within the church community and had limited success. Just asking the questions resulted in my being marginalized for the conversation. I appreciate that you are in a different place in life than I. It is your journey and this is mine. God is in the midst of all of it and s/he loves us both. I ask that you not “should” on me or anyone else. Peace be with you.)

    Kathy & Phyllis – I’m guessing you are both familiar with James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith” – and it seemed like an appropriate addition to the conversation – here is a summary of the 6 Stages as identified by Fowler:

    James Fowler proposes six stages of faith that relate closely to Kohlberg’s moral developmental stages and that include, as well, “cognitive, affective and behavioral elements of religious development at different life stages” (Kelly, 1995, p. 71).

    In the first three stages of faith development, individuals in one way or another rely on some authority outside themselves for spiritual beliefs.

    #1 – Young children, during the first stage of faith (intuitive-projective), follow the beliefs of their parents. They tend to imagine or fantasize angels or other religious figures in stories as characters in fairy tales.

    #2 – In the second stage of faith (mythical-literal), children tend to respond to religious stories and rituals literally, rather than symbolically As individuals move through adolescence to young adulthood, their beliefs continue to be based on authority focused outside themselves.

    #3 – In this third stage of faith (synthetic-conventional), individuals tend to have conformist acceptance of a belief with little self-reflection on examination of these beliefs. Most people remain at this level (Fowler, 1981; Kelly, 1995).

    #4 – Those individuals who move to the fourth stage of faith (individuative-reflective) begin a radical shift from dependence on others’ spiritual beliefs to development of their own. Fowler (1981) says, “For a genuine move to stage 4 to occur there must be an interruption of reliance on external sources of authority … There must be … a relocation of authority within the self” (p. 179). Individuals are no longer defined by the groups to which they belong. Instead, they choose beliefs, values, and relationships important to their self-fulfillment.

    #5 – In the fifth stage of faith (conjunctive), persons still rely on their own views but move from self preoccupation or from dependence on fixed truths to acceptance of others’ points of view they tend to be more tolerant and begin to consider serving others.

    #6 – Individuals who move to the sixth and last stage of faith (universalizing) are rare. As older adults, they begin to search for universal values, such as unconditional love and justice. Self-preservation becomes irrelevant. Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi are examples of people in this form of spiritual development (Fowler, 1981).

    Is there a Stage 7?

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  • Ok – the other piece to what I just shared is this. For me Fowler’s Stages of Faith connects with what I am hearing from Phyllis Tickle, Brian McLaren, and other emerging/emergent (never can remember which is which) – thinkers.

    Phyllis talks about us moving to the Holy Spirit as authority which I see as showing up in Stage 4. (The Great Emergence)

    And from a non-Christian perspective, this talk I heard on the Empathic Civilization by Jeremy Rifkin how human beings are continuing to evolve to a more empathic consciousness – you can watch a short version of his talk here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7AWnfFRc7g&feature=related (Google his name to find the extended version)

    For me, evolving to an Empathic Civilization raises the possibility that we will actually move closer to actually loving our neighbors – no matter where in the world they are…in a more holistic, compassionate spiritual way. How cool is that?

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  • Hmm…. I have debated whether to respond. I think I will.

    First, Matt, I would like to apologize. The first sentence in my previous comment was condescending and uncalled for. I recognize in your words a place I have been. It does not mean that is where you are.

    I do not reject the Word of God. I just have come to the realization that the Bible is not that. Let me explain. I believe that it is absolutely God inspired. I believe that the events recorded in it are true and accurate. I do not believe that it is the “Word of God’. There are some things recorded in there that are definitely NOT the Word of God. There are things recorded in there that absolutely ARE the Word of God. To me, the Word of God is the words He speaks to us from his own mouth.

    I thing that to some, the Bible has been elevated to a position of being viewed as if it, itself, were God – and worshipped accordingly. The Bible is not GOd, it points to Him.

    3 1/2 years ago, I was almost forcebly explleled from the bubble. At that time, the church that I left was a mess. I now recognize that it is a cult. I was a leader in the church in charge of more than one department. I was a “red zone” member. But as I began to see that the leadership of that church was corrupt and regularly lied in the name of the Holy Spirit – and was involved in sexually predatory behavior. I HAD to get out or I WOULD risk my relationship with God.

    At that time, everything I had ever grown up in concerning religious belief and church was reduced to rubble around me and all I had left was me and God. I have had to rethink – reconstruct – what I do and do not believe. And God has been involved in that all along the way. I bluntly told Him I did not know what to belive and I needed His help to find the Truth. The truth does set you free. I am not trying to define who God is – I am letting Him define Himself to me as we go. And it is a constant surprise….

    I have gone back to the original Greek and Hebrew as much as I can without actually being a Greek and Hebrew scholar. I have Strong’s Concordance, and interlinear Greek/English New Testament, a Greek lexicon, among many other study aides. I have studied. I am not done studying.

    Concerning the reading suggestions, “The Case For Christ” and “Evidence that Demands A Verdict”, I have not read the Strobel work and feel no need to as I do not question the reality of Jesus as Christ. As to the Josh McDowell book, I have it and have read it. To me, neither of these books prove that the bible is the “Word of God”. They prove that what is recorded in the bible actually happened. To me, these are separate issues. 🙂

    To be perfectly honest, it is, in part, because of my intense study of the Bible that I am where I am. The more I study, the more I see it differently than the system I was raised in. The reason, as I stated in my earlier comment, that I had to lay it aside for over a year was because every time I picked it up, all I could hear was the interprtation of it given in the cult I had come out of. Until I could come at it free of that, I could not read it. I am finally able to begin looking at it again with fresh eyes and with the taint fading.

    I was not trying to argue with anyone nor convince anyone of anything. I was simply commenting on the video clip and my own experiences in that line.

    I would like to end with a passage from Isaiah that I believe is Word from God’s mouth speaking to Isaiah. It has reverberated in me for that last couple of years.

    “So to whom will you compare me, the incomparable? Can you picture me without reducing me?” – Isaiah 46:5 The Message

    I think that no matter who we are and where we are at, any attempt to define God and say “This is who and what He is” invariably only shows us a part of of Him – reduces Him. We are not capable, in our current state, to comprehend the fullness that is God – Jesus – Holy Spirt. But they are an integral part of my life and who I am and I cannot imagine walking away from them. 🙂

    I wish God’s peace and truth on all who visit here.

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  • Kathy and Phyllis … I am late to the party as I see this conversation took place in 2010 … but wow am I glad I found it! You have put into words so much of what I feel, and just realizing it is a “refugee” phenomenon will help me, I know.

    I have a word picture that is assisted me as well, that of the underground railroad which provided secret places of refuge to slaves who were journeying toward freedom. They had left slavery, but they also left everything familiar. In doing that, they had to entrust themselves to strangers along the way and lend enough trust to that person to point them to the next cabin which would provide the next step of refuge. They were no doubt terrified, but they “did it afraid.” That is my story.

    Thank you for being one of those cabins along my way.

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