over, under, beside

over under beside

“there is always warfare in our hearts; there is always the struggle between pride and humility, hatred and love, forgiveness and the refusal to forgive, truth and the concealment of truth, openness and closedness.  each one of us is walking in that passage towards liberation, growing on the journey towards wholeness and healing…”

– jean vanier

thanks for the great comments on dan brennan’s interview about cross-gender friendships.  one reader commented on facebook “i have no idea why this is still so controversial”.  i think that often related to all kinds of topics in the church–we tend to be scared of so many things.  look at the rob bell bruhaha, for example.  if someone starts questioning what has been originally taught and many have just accepted as the norm, all hell breaks loose (just had to throw in that word).  it makes me laugh on one hand because it feels so ridiculous & makes me cry on the other hand because of the time and energy we spend on picking apart scripture when the world is crying out for love, hope, and help.   the bottom line, in my opinion, is we are fearful people.  we have not been taught the kind of wild trust, deep peace, and extravagant love i believe Jesus was pointing us to.

i think we need new leaders who can model a different kind of love than what’s been taught and cultivated.  the other day as i was walking i had this thought come to mind.  most humans are taught to live “over” another or “under” another but very rarely are we encouraged to live in the power, freedom, and hope that comes from being truly “beside” one another. it’s part of the human problem.

Jesus came to set us, the captives, free.  real freedom, in my opinion, comes from learning how to live beside one another in peace, hope, and love.  Jesus’ radical gift has been sorely misused by people bearing his name, and instead of offering freedom to the world, we perpetuate systems and cultures that bind and disempower.

leaders are taught to be “over” their group, flock, people.  i believe in leadership but i think it is greatly mis-modeled.  we have cultivated a very flawed model of leadership in most christian contexts where leaders are on the top, with great authority, and use power in a way that keeps people neatly tucked “under” them.  it protects them from vulnerability.

i am not blaming this all on leaders, either.  i see how easy it is for people to want to put themselves “under” a teacher, leader, guide’s authority and guidance.  the problem with this, though, is that can be do disempowering.  it puts a great divide in power and i think ultimately diminishes people’s dignity and value.  i also think some people like it that way because it lets them off the hook.  by staying “under” they don’t have to step in and out to free living and risk making themselves more vulnerable.  it keeps them protected.

i have heard from many women over the years who like the idea of being “under” their partner in theory, because it somehow would make them feel more protected.  i also think that it keeps them from having to rise up and into their freedom.  they can blame their husbands for not leading enough, being strong enough, or all kinds of other enoughs.  i remember saying the same things many years ago & i think it kept me from having to actually step into what God was challenging me to step into. i am so thankful for God’s healing, an awesome husband who was open to change and healing, too, and brave women who encouraged along the way.

a core tenet of true friendship and relationship with one another in authentic, healing christian community is that we learn how to live “beside” one another.  we let go of having someone be “over” us or put others “under” us and see each other’s dignity, value, and worth first.  we unplug from unhealthy power dynamics that keep us safely nestled above or below others in spirit and make ourselves far more vulnerable.

i wholeheartedly believe in mutual submission and there are times where i have to put myself “under” someone else’s decision even though i don’t agree, and in other situations, they do the same for me.  it’s not that the lines between under and over are concrete and impenetrable for certain situations, circumstances, and roles.  i know people can share all kinds of Bible verses that point to church structures & roles and i am not saying that there’s no place for it.

what i am challenging, though, is our natural human tendency to default to it because it’s easier.  it organizes people. it puts them in their place.  it keeps people separated.  it keeps us from love.

the central idea to me is that we do all we can to participate in “beside” relationships, men with women, men with men, women with women, where each person is empowered, strengthened, and has a chance to learn more about loving and being loved. so much healing and freedom can come when we practice journeying “beside” each other.

it is in these equal beside relationships that i think God’s love is deeply reflected and something deeper is being healed.  our souls are more set free.  our dignity and value is strengthened.  in the Upper Room, Jesus sat beside his disciples and reminded them, “i no longer call you my servants, i call you my friends.” Jesus, who most easily could have put himself “over” them, sits beside them and offers the gift of friendship.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • What a grrrreat post to follow-up after the cross-gender friendship interview. The “besides” metaphor so accurately describes friendship as a metaphor and reality in our posture to love one another, empower one another, and live with one another, side-by-side, as in close proximity with the other.

  • “i think we need new leaders who can model a different kind of love than what’s been taught and cultivated.” -Love this because if they are modeling Christ….OR are courageous enough to say, “follow me, as I follow Christ”…it’s ALL in there! Meaning, love is encouraged and modeled….and leaders aren’t deferring everything out. And, no one is “above” or “below” because they also are humble enough to serve or dare I say submit(everyone, one to another)? My favorite word of the week! 😉 And, I agree on the other side, “followers” aren’t always “put down” and not heard…given a chance to be a part, stepping up and doing a little “self-directed learning” AND teaching! Learning, growing, learning….

  • Wow. Again, there is a lot here. 🙂
    Dan’s right, this is a great follow-up post to the last.

    As I was reading, this came to mind….

    “Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
    “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
    “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty. ” ~ Matthew 23: 1-12 The Message

    During the process of disentangling from the cult I was in – and the religious swamp I grew up in – I have had to remind myself of these words, spoken by Jesus, to keep me from falling into guilt when pressured by people to ‘serve’ in their ministry. I had a women I consider a friend corner me before a meeting last weekend and tell me she ‘needed’ me to play bass for her and that unlike the other person who has asked, she will not take no for an answer. Sigh. And even just now, re-reading this, I am calmed and settled. I am not required to submit to her because she has standing or ‘authority’. It felt like religious manipulation and I was disappointed that it came from this direction.

    Deep breath. 🙂

    To have people come along side – take the time to get to know and understand – and help. That is what I have always looked for. It is very rare, in my experience.

  • dan – thanks. i really loved your interview, too, and yes, i think that until we learn “beside” we will never be able to really live in the fullness of authentic rich community together.

    – thanks for sharing. yeah, it really works both ways–no over & no under…and it’s so tricky to do when so much of it is embedded in our culture, especially christian culture. here’s to lots of learning, growing, learning!

    katherine – oh i love the message. such a good one, katherine. i also love your term “religious swamp” now there’s an image. thanks for sharing.

  • I’m just now reading this, but once again, this is a message worth spreading. The church should be a place of liberation and freedom, not bondage, not assertion of power. And in our relationships, all of them but particularly between men and women, we so need this “besideness” that you speak of. It’s a great, powerful and freeing image.


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