so much beauty despite the thorns.

despite the thorns there's still so much beautyWell, that was kind of wild. My little post on narcissism and the church was the #2 most-hit blog post in carnival history (#1 is ex-good-christian-women, ha ha).  I am so glad because it means that people’s eyes are being opened to this issue in church culture. Hopefully we will actually let what we see guide us toward different choices about who we give our money, time, and talents to.

Meanwhile, I have felt this sense of deep sadness the past few days. So much mis-used power. So much blind-sheep-following out of sincere intentions. So much damage. Oh, how I hope we can do what I said at the end of that post–get healthier, get healthier, get healthier.

And sometimes when so many hard stories emerge, I can easily forget that despite all the jacked-up-ness of power-ego-narcissist-driven church systems, there are also still so many simple, humble, beautiful, amazing, kind, ordinary, lovely, incredible, under-the-radar, unplugged, real, raw, vulnerable people living out their faith in countless ways.

Despite the thorns, there’s still so much beauty.

Even though there’s so much to cry and yell about related to church, there are also many things worth celebrating and honoring and appreciating.

Today, I needed to remember the beauty amidst the mess. Otherwise, I just feel too hopeless.

So I thought I’d share some of the beauty I can think of off the top of my head–people and places and glimpses of things that are noble and pure and true and good and alive in the kingdom of God.

Beauty amidst the thorns.

I think of my friend Hugh, who trudges through the snow to open up a hospitality house where people on the streets in Raleigh can find warmth and friendship and a place-to-be-loved.  And my friends at Dry Bones Denver who love kids on the street deeply through the years. Ken in Portland, who for 30 years has been calling out people’s dignity  through simple friendship with no big budget or a single bit of flash.

And Luke and Rebecca, dreaming of a new community in Everett where all are welcomed and included and valued and treasured and women can lead and the marginalized have a voice and beauty is valued.

Or the Justice and Mercy Legal Aid Clinic, where my awesome husband is a lawyer alongside other humble, kind, passionate justice advocates. It’s a place where women who are victims of violence are getting premier legal aid and are treated with dignity and respect.

Then I remember my friends who bring water and clothes and friendship to people on the street in San Diego week after week after week. They left the confines of church years ago to find life and faith in tangibly being the body of Christ.

Upstairs from The Refuge is a food bank that opens its doors week after week after week with a completely and totally volunteer staff. No salaries, just a commitment to feed people in the name of Jesus.

In Fort Worth my sweet friends gather in all kinds of different ways to break bread and share pain and celebrate life together without a church building or a big budget or a strategic plan beyond “being together.”

I think of the male pastors I work alongside with who gave up money and benefits and security and accolades to cultivate life in our little weird community because they care about people more than power.

Or my dear friend Suzann whose life is given to friendship with the Palestinians. No bells, no whistles, no organizational wow.  Just relationship. And that’s always the foundation for justice.

Then there’s Ryan and his team of ordinary people who build long-term redemptive relationships with friends on the streets in Capital Hill.  Network Cafe has been offering coffee and friendship day after night and night after day in a little house or over 30 years.

And all the young people I am seeing online whose hearts are on fire for justice and change on behalf of Black Lives Matter.  They aren’t waiting for permission; they are living out their call in simple, organic, profound ways.

I smile as I read through a pile of emails from the interfaith group I am part of, leaders of all faiths standing in support with our Muslim friends on Wednesday night as part of a prayer vigil in Denver on behalf of peace.

The true pastors I know who love people whether they are paid or not, or have a degree or not, or are part of a church staff or not.

Oh, and so many sweet and simple “churches” in all kinds of shapes and sizes with no budgets, no flash, no whiz, no bang, just kind people who find ways to gather around tables, in parks, in coffee shops, in recovery meetings, in church buildings, in all-kinds-of-weird-ways to see others and be seen.  To love and be loved.

And really I should have said this first–the people everywhere with no titles or positions or roles-with-recognition who brought meals, who dropped by the hospital, who picked up a single mom’s kids, who shared their story at a recovery meeting that gave someone else a little hope, who cleaned someone’s house, who filled up someone’s gas tank, who tutored someone else’s kid, who called someone on their heart, who gave a rip when no one else would, who stopped to help the man on the side of the road, who hugged someone who needed a hug, who stood up against a bully, who offered grace in some small, simple, beautiful way.

Yeah, there’s so much beauty amidst the thorns.

I hope we can see some of it today.

The sweet, simple kingdom breaking through.

Jesus with skin on.

The image of God reflected in the least likely of places.

The strength of the weak.

Kind, humble leaders in all kinds of different ways.

Real power. Real juice. Real people.

I would love to hear where you’re seeing it, too.

Peace to you this weekend, Kathy

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.

10 Comments

  • The reason I don’t give up on the (little c) church is because it allows me to be and work alongside so many of the wonderful kingdom people of the (big C) Church. Those like you mentioned. They are worth my time

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  • Kathy. I was blessed to be grounded in my faith through the investment of true pastors who cared more about my heart and about my growth than about how many people were in their churches. Its time we prayed that the true pastors, the true elders, and the true deacons would arise in the church once again. There really is much beauty amongst the thorns, and I believe its time to trust God and let Him prune back the roses in the church so the beauty can be seen all the more. Thanks for sharing this!!! God bless!

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  • Thanks Kathy. There are many roses among the thorns, but they are so easily missed. We know lots of them. We met two of them last week, a single mother and her fourteen year old son. Every Sunday they head to the local taco shop and buy sixty tacos, then head downtown and give the tacos and water to the homeless. In addition to tacos and water, everyone gets a hug, and a “How was your week?” They look people in the eye, and really listen to what the people say. They care. What they do is not a program, not something sponsored by someone else. It is two people using their time and resources to show Jesus’ love to people who need exactly that.

    Can you imagine, Kathy? A single working mom who spends part of her paycheck every week to buy sixty tacos to give away to people who are living on the sidewalk. She’s not wealthy by any means, but is rich in love.

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  • As imperfect as the church is that I attend, one thing that keeps me going is how they handled a situation involving my daughter. She had received a number of sexually harassing emails from a guy on the worship team. When she told me about it, I told her we had to let the leadership know. When she courageously told them her story, they immediately believed her and told her he would not play on the worship team anymore, nor would he be allowed to attend the worship service she attended. They protected her in a way I’d never experienced. They even asked her if she would be okay with one of them mentoring the guy (off-site, which was important), or would she feel more comfortable if they found someone not associated with the church to mentor him. Anyway, I can’t tell you how my mama’s heart broke in gratitude that they gave her power in the situation!

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  • Your posts always move and inspire me. Thank you. In the midst of people coming and going, nit-picking and griping (I’m in church leadership) I am continually in awe of the beauty that resides among the thorns of ministry. This is the Kingdom heart-beat that is true life…it chokes me up…

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