what we're for.

There’s a new church plant in my neighborhood at our local school. They moved here with a whole bunch of people from another state, started two services out of the chute, have mailed us multiple big expensive postcards, put up flags and signs lining the street, and even have parking attendants in bright orange jackets ready to guide you into your parking spot . I have seen them every Sunday morning because that’s a time I usually for sure take a walk. I told Jose the other day while we were walking by (and I was griping) that if we went in, I could play a game called “guess how many things I’m sure they are doing to attract people.” (definitely a fun church bingo game!)

Oh, there are so many things about “church” I am against.

And personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing or a wrong thing. It’s okay to not want to be part of certain things, to hold strong feelings about particular aspects of church, to have a clear opinion. This is often mistaken as negative and wrong and divisive when in truth, it’s just our honest take on it.

Often, knowing what we are “against” helps us clarify what we are “for.”

At the same time, I also respect that sometimes in the push against traditional systems, some of us can get so caught up in what we’re against, that what we’re for doesn’t properly get articulated and ends up being diminished.

Even though I have developed particular aversions to some things related to church, I also hold a lot of values and dreams and hopes for it, too–things I am truly for.

And as I walk by the new church plant and can think of 100 snarky things to say about it, it made me think that the most important work is to focus on what I am for and not what I am against.

To set my eyes and heart and hands and feet on what is before me that I value and want to nurture and cultivate, not what I can’t stand.

To look forward, not back.

To honor what lights my fire and gives me life.

To focus my energy on what I love, not what I hate.

Years ago, I remember a ministry friend telling me, “Kathy, I am so clear on what you are against when it comes to church. I want to hear what you are for.” That sparked the blog series called “What Could Be”and ended up being the catalyst for Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus, which is really centered on cultivating what I deeply believe in related to incarnational living and community.

Anyway, in the spirit of remembering that conversation and of noticing how easy it is for me to rail against that church plant, I thought I’d take a few minutes today as my own little clarifying exercise to remember what I’m for.

I have to admit, it was kind of hard to not put in the “against” part!

Not sure where you are at in your own journey right now, but it might be a fun exercise for you, too.

As of today, Wednesday, April 15th (and respecting that it’s always evolving) I am definitely for:

  • Community, whatever that looks like – messy, in-the-flesh relationships with other people. I believe in the depths of my heart that we need place to practice learning to love and be loved, to become more human, and it can happen in all different kinds of ways.
  • Equality, not just for women but for everyone – that everyone gets to play, that power should be distributed, that we are meant to live alongside each other, not over or under another regardless of gender, theology, socioeconomics, sexuality, education, and every other divide.
  • Shared Leadership in every shape or form – Collaboration and flat leadership and men and women alongside each other requires so much more of us but in the end is much more transforming and a beautiful reflection of God’s image in us. What we lose in efficiency we gain in health.
  • Small! Slow! Simple! – So much happens in little pockets of love that is so important and easily dismissed in the world of bigger and better and more-wow and faster, quicker. Real transformation takes so much time and I’m continually learning the value of trying to be more tortoise than hare, that simple is so beautiful.
  • Sacrificing “Success” and “Excellence” on behalf of peopleJesus wasn’t excellent (I always get push on that one but I will hold to it) and success in the world’s eyes is not the same as in the kingdom of God’s.
  • Deferring to the marginalized – Justice is all about shifting power and it’s our responsibility to participate in whatever way we can.
  • Underprogramming, it helps us let go and be less controlling – I believe in a loose plan, a framework, a container, but oh, how I keep learning that the magic happens when there’s room to shift, to breathe, to share, to change, to punt.
  • Being uncomfortable. The Refuge’s invitation to community says a bunch of things about what we care about, but it’s last line is based on something a dear friend said at one of our family meetings–“At the Refuge, everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.” Comfy chairs, comfy conversations, comfy relationships, comfy leadership structures, comfy ______ make us….comfy. I think Jesus’ ways were always supposed to be uncomfortable.

Oh, those are some off the top of my head today.

I think it’s worth considering, and it looks so different for each of us.

Without bringing up what we’re against, what are we for?

//

A few other quick things:

1. A lot of you already read Rachel Held Evans, and I’ll write more when I get back from a big trip to Israel-Palestine-Jordan in a few weeks, but her new book Searching for Sunday just released yesterday. So many great thoughts of pursuing what we are “for”!

2. Another thing I plan to do when I get back is make a good list of the fun conversations I’ve had on different podcasts over the past season related to Faith Shift. I’ve shared them on Twitter and Facebook but would be good to put them all in one place.  Here’s one from last week on Wayne Jacobsen’s The God Journey if you want to listen in.

3. I have had so much fun traveling to party with friends and process Faith Shift in different cities, but am excited to do one in Denver on May 27th before a much-needed summer break. Details are here, feel free to pass on to others, all are welcome!

4. On Saturday May 30th, my friend Christine Sine will be at The Refuge facilitating a Spirituality of Gardening Workshop from 10am-3pm. If you live nearby, would love to see you! All are welcome.

 

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.

11 Comments

  • I’m for a place where people are safe and valued. Where relationship is more important than doctrine or position. Where every voice is heard. Where Jesus is head of his church. Where love wins.

    Reply
  • I’m *for* anonymity. Or placing principles above personalities…

    From the Benham brothers to Rachel H Evans, there is just too much dang Christian celebrity going on. Makes me want to tear my hair out and wear sack cloth and ashes.

    (Also makes me appreciate good old open AA meetings where the wisest guy in the room is the one that offers to get you coffee. He’s quiet, contemplative – shalom personified with a good dose of joy. He wouldn’t be caught dead self-promoting….but he’ll be your sponsor – for free – and invest himself in a few people who want to be transformed from the inside out. He’s divorced, a handyman, lives in a beat up single wide, wears the same pair of jeans to every meeting and he’s found Jesus – in fact, I think he is Jesus.)

    I’m *for* mature Christians. You know the kind that have suffered redemptively. I think I know two of them. I want to be with them – be like them – they are attractive. They don’t go out of their way to have a “ministry” because they don’t have to – people come to them…they spread the Gospel via attraction not promotion.

    I’m *for* Christian leaders who have *real* jobs. They work in retail and minister in Wal mart. When I say I had a hard day at work – they can relate. When I say I don’t have money for coffee at Starbucks – they can relate. They go to Goodwill for their clothes – I can relate. They don’t ask for money *ever* which makes me want to give them money. They work for minimum wage and then donate plasma for extra cash when the funds get low so they can keep on ministering. It’s just too dicey of a relationship when we exchange money for the goods, isn’t it?

    I’m *for* introverts. There is a plague of extroverts who are self-appointed *leaders* of every form of church – from small gatherings to progressive to conservative churches – and they *need* people and so there they are – serving out of their neediness and being condescending to my husband – calling him “buddy”. I want all the extroverts to sit down and be quiet – they make my head hurt. Disclaimer (in the interest of full disclosure): I’m an introvert.

    I am *for* not knowing what your sexual orientation is. Really, I don’t need to know. Hetero – transgender – bi queer – please stop telling me I have to know *and* care. Life is hard for a lot of people who are different – in fact, isn’t life hard for all of us (if we are being real?)…I am *for* not knowing unless we are in a close relationship and it comes up as part of the course of normal conversation – and if you feel like I must know, well God bless you – will you please pass the communion bread and wine? (Actually the butch haircut and chucks were your tell. I knew. Just bustin’.) I will try to love you – and if it is hard to love you it might just be because you’re an asshole – not because you’re gay. Or it might be because I’m an asshole.

    I am *for* Christians staying out of politics. There – I said it. And the military. There – I said it.

    I am *for* small….smaller….smallest…..I max out at Jesus’ max: 12.

    I’m *for* the body of Christ. I love authors and poets, musicians and dancers and plumbers and eccentric cat ladies with missing front teeth. I’ve learned the most from the eccentric cat lady with the dredlocks especially when she goes on and on about the book of Revelation and then tells me my bullshit fuse is about to blow so I better hold on to my hat (she had my number big time).

    I’m *for* taking care of the people in our small community. We love Africans and Guatemalans just as much as the next guy but really, my friend who’s a single mom is busting it trying to feed her three kids. Please don’t ask for money for “missions” – has the church in the United States taken a good look at Detroit lately? Dear Jesus can we please stop sending money and people and short term mission trips to developing countries? Come to Gastonia in North Carolina – I have seen 54 pediatric patients *in one day* at our medicaid clinic. We need help but the local church is busy raising funds to send a bunch of privileged high-schoolers to build an outhouse in the Dominican Republic.

    I’m *for* an eschatology that says “The kingdom is here – now – among you – what the hell are you waiting for?”

    I am *for* the weakest person among us. The one who is ambivalently attached to everyone and everything and always has something inappropriate to say at the most inopportune time – hey, wait a minute – – that’s me! 🙂

    Thanks for the open forum – I appreciate what you are trying to do…hope this doesn’t come across as harsh.
    (clearly, I needed to vent) Blessings, shalom and joy, sister…

    Reply
  • LOVE this list, Kathy. Thank you for your thoughtful, helpful stance.

    Reply
  • I’m “for” your good list: all of it.
    And “for” remembering what we’re for, rather than against.
    And reading your post, it occured to me: I’m also for joy. Sometimes we get so caught on our agendas, plans, intentions, visions, we forget to delight in the moments of real fellowship, genuine worship. From what I’ve seen, joy jumps in when we do some of the things you describe: slow down, give room to all, let go of control, wait to see what God will say, and who he’ll choose to say it through.
    Thanks.

    Reply

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