shifting: when things get rumbly

This post is part of a short 6-post series from Faith Shift, a small taste of some of the major movements in the book–Fusing, Shifting, Returning, Unraveling, Severing, Rebuilding. This is how you know you might be in a middle of a faith shift.  Yesterday, we touched on Fusing and some of the rules of that stage in our journey. These first 3 (Fusing, Shifting, and Returning) are part of the first section to lay the foundation to where so many of us are living right now–Unraveling, when everything we once believed begins falling apart.

We are all in different places in our story, but I do think that what’s happening in the wider world of Christianity is very consistent with what happens to a lot of us after some length in Fusing–things start to get rumbly and stop working the way they used to. 

We start asking questions we didn’t ask before.

We start experiencing a stirring for something more than the safety of Fusing brings.

Our eyes start opening to the some of the realities of the systems we’ve ascribed to.

This is the season I call Shifting.

Shifting always comes after Fusing; we can’t shift until we have something to shift from. It is the season in our faith journey where things level out instead of ascend, where clear lines become more fuzzy or bumpy. This is where we start to outgrow the values of affiliation, conformity, and certainty and long for something more.

While people bring many unique experiences to this season, Shifting typically includes:

  • beginning to question systems to which we once happily ascribed
  • feeling unsettled about particular beliefs and doctrinal tenets
  • longing to really feel more known and loved by God and others
  • experiencing a deep restlessness that something might be missing in our spiritual lives
  • wanting to use our passions and gifts but feeling unempowered
  • worrying about losing our security and stability if we lean into these scary and unfamiliar feelings
  • fearing that we are doing something wrong spiritually (p. 40)

Any of these feel familiar?

The thing about Shifting that’s important to say is that it’s not a free-fall. It’s not a place where everything comes apart and we lose everything (that comes later for a lot of us). It’s not where there’s no turning back.  In fact, we have some control over Shifting. We can choose what to do with what’s being stirred up. During this season, most of us still stay in the churches and ministries we are part of.  People around us may see us the same, but we know something’s different inside. This stage is definitely not drastic yet, and there’s no big loss here.  It’s just the rumbly stirring of dissatisfaction, disengagement, apathy, and doubt.

Even though I didn’t begin a drastic Unravel until 9 years ago, I started shifting many years before that when I kept bumping into some of the same things in the churches I was part of–a focus on “us and them”, unhealthy leadership, an attempt to push real feelings down and cover them up with bible verses, a haughty certainty about the bible that stopped feeling comforting, a divide between the sick and the healthy and the strong and the weak.

When I started to doubt in the early stages of Shifting, I heard a loud voice in my head saying, You must be doing something wrong. Other shifters hear similar messages:

Everyone else seems fine, so there must be something wrong with me.

If I can just pray harder, believe more, or do more, I’ll get the good feelings back.

I expect too much—after all, no church is perfect.

Who said we were supposed to feel good anyway?

God must be trying to teach me something and I’m just not getting it (p. 47-48). 

The noise we hear during Shifting isn’t just about what’s wrong with us. It can also be about questions we start to ask, theological and leadership disparities we start to observe, or feelings we can’t seem to shake (p. 48):

  • Was all of this time spent in church a waste?
  • How much can I really question without getting in trouble with other people or even with God?
  • Am I the only one who feels this way? Why haven’t I heard anyone else talk about this stuff before?
  • How many friends will I lose? Will I ever be able to find a spouse if I don’t believe certain things?
  • Is the Bible really inerrant, without one single mistake?
  • What about the other religions of the world? Are all of those people completely wrong, destined for hell?
  • Is being gay a sin?
  • Why are my atheist and agnostic friends treating me with more kindness and respect than my Christian brothers and sisters do?
  • What will my parents think?
  • What if I’m being deceived and giving into the world?
  • What will I do for a living if I am no longer in ministry?
  • Is this what Jesus really had in mind for church?

These are just a few, but I’d love to know what you would add to this list. Depending on where you’re–what’s either rattling in your head now about your shifting faith or was part of your past when things had just started getting rumbly and you weren’t sure what to do about it?

Tomorrow–Returning: Playing it Safe.

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Also tomorrow, if you are in Denver and want to be part, we are hosting a Spirituality of Gardening Workshop with Christine Sine from 10 am to 3pm at The Refuge. All of the details are here and 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.

8 Comments

  • I have found Faith Shift helpful in bringing some vocabulary to what has been 15 years of painful change . My husband and I take the book on date-night and sit together in the pub running through the questions. Slowly, I think we are getting somewhere. It must have been many years of hard experience in the making, so thanks for writing it Kathy x

    Reply
    • that makes me happy 🙂 exactly what i hoped for the material, really. it’s so mean tot be processed and engaged with, not just read. thanks for sharing this today!

      Reply
  • Sometimes we feel that much of the time spent in church was a waste. On the other hand, we know “church” from the inside, and it helps us understand why so many people no longer (if they ever did) want to be part of it. The stated and implied purposes of the church sound very good, but the reality of many churches is that preservation of the institution (and the jobs, paychecks, properties, etc.) is really the number one purpose. I wonder how we would have known that if we had not once been one of the “insiders.”

    Building relationships with our neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and in other social settings helped us disassociate with (institutional) church. In reality, we’ve found it easier to form relationships with people in those groups than with people in churches. I’ve always thought it a bad idea to “put all my eggs in one basket” in most areas of life, including depending on one group of people for all of my relationships and for my supposed connection to God. That sounds like a cult to me.

    Reply
    • the putting all our eggs in one basket is so common and what so many of us do–and one of the reasons the losses are so great when all the eggs get smashed. such wisdom in wha you are saying.

      Reply
  • 1. Why is “church” so boring? Do people actually like this stuff? Why can’t we talk about it?
    2. I thought the church was a community? Where is the community Monday through Saturday?
    3. Is the church a building or a meeting? Isn’t the church the people?
    4. Why do others find the Bible black and white when it is clearly not on a lot of things?
    5. Why can’t we be honest without fearing being exiled, condemned as a heretic?
    6. Why are Christians motivated by fear, punishment, shame, guilt instead of love?
    7. Why all the hyper-focus on sin to the point of saying that our bodies are evil and bad? How can we not hate ourselves with this kind of theology?
    8. Where has the mystical nature of Christianity gone? Why is everything so colonial without mystery, diversity and creativity?
    9. Why are women silenced so much? Are men really that threatened by what women bring to the body of Christ?
    10. Why is formation the hardest thing for the church and often gets almost completely ignored to the exclusion of mission and doing lots of stuff?
    11. Why isn’t there much of a focus on prayer as listening, silence, meditation, reflection, contemplation, rest, seeing the sacredness of all of life? Is prayer all about our narcissistic agendas? Do we know how to communion with God beyond vocal words into our intuitions and longings?
    12. Why can’t we show negative emotions without someone trying to fix us?
    13. Is the church addicted to money and power?
    14. Why is the church so ungraceful toward sexuality? Why isn’t there more conversations on something that is common to all of humanity and hard to figure out?
    15. Why are Christians so judgmental and arrogant sometimes?
    16. Is God really going to send everyone to hell if you do not believe in the North American system of church? I find this hard to believe.
    17. Does American Christianity promote narcissism?
    18. Why does American Christianity promotes one view of the atonement when there were many throughout church history? Does anyone know about this stuff?
    19. Do white, middle class Christians have any concern for the poor, oppressed and marginalized?
    20. Are we addicted to consumerism and forgotten about simplicity?
    21. Is loving our neighbor a part of the gospel anymore or is just about believing in propositional statements?
    22. Why isn’t it acceptable to swear when we pray out loud?
    23. Why aren’t we repenting of the systemic sins of the church that are creating abuse and damage?
    24. Are Christians really happy with the status quo?
    25.Why are there so many dualities between the sacred and secular taught to us by the church?
    26. Why aren’t things like the Enneagram and Nonviolent Communication taught to us, especially when we are new to faith?
    27. Why is there such a lack of diversity in the body of Christ in North America?

    28. Why isn’t contemplative spirituality not central to our Christianity?
    29. Why do we have to pretend so much to be someone we’re not?
    30. Why is worship about singing songs to the exclusion of a way of life in the world that fosters love and compassion?
    31. Why are single people marginalized and the family elevated as the norm? Wasn’t Jesus single?
    32. Why do we get stuck in the first half of life spirituality about achievement, success and image while never making it to the second half of life spirituality where it is more about reflection and interior growth?
    33. Why do we use the Bible as a weapon to judge, condemn and hate?
    34. Why can’t we find more similarities than differences with others? Do we share a common humanity together regardless of race, socio-economic background, gender, religion, culture?
    35. Why don’t young people have the courage to do something different than their parents when it comes to the church and spirituality? Are we afraid to put up healthy boundaries with our parents and not let them live vicariously through us?
    36. Where is the beauty in Christianity? Is the gospel good news anymore?
    37. Does God hate me? The church seems to think so it seems?
    38. Where are the authentic people who will help reimagine the church instead of just give up on it?
    39. Where has the wisdom gone in American Christianity?
    40. Why don’t more people cry for the church instead of defend its unhealthy systems?
    41. Has the church condemned our true selves and not allowed us to live authentically?
    42. Why does theology and the Bible keep us from growing in our humanity?
    43. What has happened to seeking God within ourselves?
    44. Doesn’t the kingdom of God live within us? Why isn’t there more of a focus on this?
    45. Why is being ecumenical bad? Can’t we learn anything from Eastern religions?

    Reply

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