healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators

henri nouwen we keep forgetting who we are

it was a great weekend at transform 2014 in san diego. it was lovely & inspiring hanging out with old friends & making some new ones, and on my middle-of-the-night-and-trying-to-stay-awake drive from san diego to LAX to catch a morning standby flight that ended up getting cancelled, i had a lot of time to reflect.

and a weird thing happened as i was driving:  i started crying for the church

no matter how mad i get at it, no matter how frustrated i am at the same-old-same-old conversations, no matter how grieved i feel over how far it has strayed from what i think was the big idea, i still love it.

i still believe that it could and should be the most transforming force in the world since it’s supposed to be the representative, the ambassador, the living-flesh-and-blood spirit of Jesus here on earth. 

i still believe in what could be.

i still believe that somehow it will prevail even though i think it will begin to look much different.

through some different encounters, i was struck this weekend by how broken the church is, how divided we have become, how much pain exists, how the chasm between progressives & evangelicals is so hard to bridge, how difficult it is for us to find unity in the midst of this tricky shift in christianity.

i also saw so much hope & beauty that is emerging despite the obstacles. 

i am incredibly grateful to be connected to people who truly care about change and are trying to be ministers of hope in the midst.  it is no easy task.

as i was driving in the dark up I-5, i was thinking that while i firmly believe we need dreamers & boat-rockers & prophets to speak into change in the church and help everyone imagine a better future, i also think there’s a critical need for another group to rise up to help nurture this movement as it struggles and strains to move to new places:  we desperately need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators!

seriously.

this is what’s sorely missing.

the pain, the division, the fear, the criticism, the mistrust is so real.

i am more convinced than ever we need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators–guides, pastors & shepherds (the good kind), and spiritual midwives–to make it to the other side. 

here’s the role they can play:

healers / there is an incredible amount of woundedness related to faith & church & life. the stories sometimes make me weep, so many deeply dedicated people who have lost so much along the way–beliefs & doctrine, structures & churches and relationships & community.  we need people who won’t minimize this pain or magnify it but will tend to it with love & offer safe spaces and places for stories to be told and hope to be found so we can begin to get up off our knees and walk again. faith shifts are hard but don’t have to be quite as devastating, but because there are so few healing communities to grieve properly, we get stuck and lost in the process. we need more healing spaces, therapists, pastors, and spiritual directors & guides to help us navigate these changes & uncover hope.

bridge-builders / if we’re not careful, this evangelical-progressive theological war is going to get worse & worse. we all can see how it’s getting crazier by the day. as a person who’s done my share of bridge-bombing, i feel clear it’s time for me to enter into a better season of bridge-building.  we need people who can hold the space for dignified dialogue between those of more liberal persuasions and those of more conservative ones. to find what we agree on instead of only center on what we don’t. to lay down our swords & harmful words and find ways to make peace. to learn to listen & understand each other better. to learn to agree to disagree and put love & relationship above all. to foster unity and diversity, not uniformity. to cross divides between government agencies & different faith streams & other brothers and sisters who care about similar things.

community cultivators / there’s a big difference between building churches and cultivating communities. we definitely need new wineskins for new wine, more women, more shared leadership, more living systems. we need places of equality & justice & healing and vibrant & diverse & flexible & challenging & transformational communities of all shapes and sizes to emerge. we need so many more options for people who leave traditional church to actually find places to live out their passion for justice & mercy & community & healing with others without feeling so lonely & fragmented. we need little pockets of love and freedom to pop up all over the place so that we can all become more whole. we need communities of contemplative action, nurtured by a deep sense of God’s presence & calling and bravely dedicated to practice. we need people and groups who will partner with government agencies, non-faith-based organizations, other nonprofits & churches-not-like-us for the common good; collaboration is what will sustain us.

yeah, we need more healers, bridge-builders, and community cultivators to help nurture a more hopeful future.

without them, the bruises & scars of all this change are going to be our defining mark instead of signs of life & hope.

if you are some form of a healer, a bridge-builder, a community cultivator, please know your gifts, your heart, your presence, your leadership, your imagination is desperately needed out here.

we need to you to help us remember who we are.

may you step up and out and help us all move toward a better place together.

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.

29 Comments

  • kathy, i so want to answer this call, but the work is so difficult and very painful. i often find that neither the people who “stay”, nor the people who “leave” understand why i feel the way i do. i have never felt more lonely in my life.

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    • Linda, I have only your few words to go on as to exactly what you may mean and be referring to. My own “leaving” vs. “staying” didn’t happen to involve a specific church very much, or strong relationships there, so may have been relatively easier in that regard. But after pulling away from all Christian churches, I later more and more felt the desire, the draw to see if there was a place and way to reconnect with integrity. I did eventually find that. But it was a lonely-feeling place for quite a while in between, and still sometimes feels that way, trying to be a bridge-builder and reformer at once. I’m “planted” in a mainline Progressive setting but believe I have more-than-usual insight into the positives of the Evangelical world (both via many years there and via psychology/sociology/anthropology).

      I’d encourage you, if you’re not already intellectually inclined, to stretch yourself some in that area… wherever you are with that, to deepen a notch or so… reading helps one to not feel alone; and to see the larger universe of ideas and ways of organizing knowledge that stand “above” the interpersonal intensities of people’s individual worldviews.

      One of my favorite books in this general area of Kathy’s discussion that I’ve encountered is “Integral Christianity” by Paul Smith (a pastor of 45+ years…. SAME church!) That, in turn, may get you into Integral Theory which I’ve found to be immensely helpful… a system as thorough as exists as a guide for understanding one’s own, others’, and institutions’/societies’ points of reference, stages of growth, spiritual experiences, etc.

      Reply
  • When I see a building with a sign our front that says “church”, I wonder what type of group it really is. I learned a long time ago that proclaiming oneself to be loving, compassionate, and caring does not mean one is. Nor does proclaiming that a group and their building is a church make them one. Many of these organizations, in my opinion, are more of a political organization/religious organization/keeper of “the way things once were” organization.

    We parted ways with those types of groups, but are part of the body of Christ, those who follow Jesus and who try to follow his example. For us that is the church. Those other organizations are having their problems. They are losing and will increasingly lose people and financial support. For most of them, they will either change or become increasingly irrelevant in our culture. As for me and my house, we’re busy loving those who have been rejected by those groups. We find that many of them do like Jesus.

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    • you are a healer and community cultivator and build bridges to folks who have only known destruction by church people. thanks for your heart.

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  • Thanks Kathy – your last three sentences about being needed, helping remember who you are and stepping up, helping us all move to a better place were encouraging for me.

    What you share reminds me too of how I wept surprisingly. I was troubled about what was going on in church and had a conversation about that with a fellow dog walker. I shared a gospel message about Jesus and said this is what it is about, not all the arguments. They responded by saying they had never heard that gospel message before and all they say was the fighting. That was then I wept.

    For me, that was a release form the tension I had been experiencing which was healing for me, but also if it had not been for the difficulties in church, I would not have shared that I had been experiencing difficulty and then what church is really all about with Jesus.

    Sometimes it’s just about accepting that things are the way they are, somehow God is working everything out and we all are in a position of privilege if we happen to be part of that :).

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  • Kathy, I’m so glad you shared your heart and wrote something so soon after TransFORM. I haven’t ventured to do so yet, on my blog, but plan to (wish I had your gift to write, seemingly at least, in stream-of-consciousness and it still be coherent and inspiring).

    First, a few of my own impressions of the conference, esp. for any who were there, and I hope will share also. I noticed many of the things you identified also, though not happening within the “community” of attendees… and it did have the sense of a community to me, more than a collection of strangers (to me almost all were completely unknown prior, or barely known in a few cases). I felt safe and able to be real, open and such. This was both the result of “work” done by perhaps everyone (or nearly so) prior to the conf. and the skill of the organizers and leaders.

    Almost every element, every session, was moving, stimulating or otherwise engaging to me. Surprisingly so. And my overall “take away” was perhaps more optimistic than yours. But we are in quite different contexts with different recent experiences and vantage points on the broader Christian world. Much more I could say but want to turn to you “call” for healers, bridge builders, etc.

    I’ve seen myself in both those (and other, such as prophetic) roles most of my life. But my own journey of significant “paradigm” (or theology) shifting only took place around 19 years ago (“only” in that I was 45 or so). I feel I understand your call, your perceptions, the needs you refer to, pretty well because I went through stages in my own faith journey and relating with community around faith. Left “Christendom” for several years in the mid-nineties and following, but never felt I “lost my faith” (except the specific theology). I’ve worked hard, over the last 5-6 years particularly, at finding common ground in my own mind, and that at least MIGHT be staked out with others, conceptually and in compassionate action).

    And common ground between WHAT and WHAT is itself a tricky question. For simplicity, I do consider that I was a fairly centrist Evangelical before, and a fairly centrist Progressive now (of the Process variety, specifically… finding the most “sense” and helpful thinking in that paradigm). Anyway, knowing it took me, with a solid theological education and at least some ability to articulate it, several years to make some deeper sense out of what I felt I’d been seriously misled about, I can imagine how much MORE lost many may feel who have less tools or a less objective-and-analytical nature than I do. And many leaders, I’m convinced, from both “camps”, feel threatened that maybe some of the key points of the “other side” may be right, at least in some degree… but they dare not acknowledge that for a variety of reasons.

    So, having already recognized that long ago, I’ve been trying to write and do a few minimal things as a bride-builder. And you are inspiring me further… thank you. And the conference certainly did so as well!

    I also didn’t get to share with you and your co-pastor that your story (the personal part of your co-ministry, particularly) was VERY encouraging to hear and SEE in operation. So rare, on at least 3 levels: truly co-pastors, male-female, and admittedly “Evangelical” and whatever-you-call-yourself-now (aside, to me, you used a term that maybe you use publicly, but in case not, I won’t mention it here).

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    • i’m glad you were part of that conversation, too. it is always fun and weird to tell our story and sure loved hearing what other people were doing/trying/etc. too. so encouraging.

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  • Thank you for this post! I want to be strong and courageous and use my gifts in just the ways you are describing.

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      • Hi there!

        I will be out of the office April 10-15, returning to the office on Wednesday.
        Thank you for your patience, and I’ll respond to you as soon as I can!

        Yours,
        Adrianna

        Reply
  • Kathy, there is a stand on your own two feet kind of posture that radiates as a seasoned call to healing and reconciliation at this hour and you are one of those voices. Bless you for your distinctive voice and presence.

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  • I’m enjoying the comments shared on this post! I hope more choose to share as well. Kathy, there is a particular “bridge-builder” whose work I wanted to note here, in case you’re not aware of it. I referred to him and it in replying to Linda Marie. Are you familiar with Paul Smith and his book, “Integral Christianity”? I LOVE that book (it’s reviewed in 2 parts on my blog, here: http://wp.me/p5oBn-ly and here: http://wp.me/p5oBn-m6)! Paul has shepherded himself and a varying size group through not one or two but a few major stage transitions… It CAN be done (as you know)… We need reminding when more of what we’re seeing is the negative fall-out or the ongoing contentions. No, not everyone will choose to grow. But I’m convinced most will and do.

    Anyway, having known of you and your work and community, I know want to know a lot more about it and will certainly be keeping an eye on your blog…. glad you make the time to do it among ALL the busy rest of your life!

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    • hi howard, so good to meet you in person and hear a bit more of your heart, too. i hadn’t heard of this book, so thanks for sharing. look forward to staying in touch!

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  • Hi Kathy. Thanks for your heart!! I am a young woman from Germany, following your blog since a while. And I am very encouraged from you – again and again, to live and fight for new community’s & build bridges & do this as a woman! 🙂
    So be blessed and keep going!! cheers, Kerstin

    Reply
  • Aaand don’t forget the spunky cheerleaders *for* the healers, bridge builders, and community cultivators! 🙂 #goteam

    Reply

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