different not divided.

One of the things I care the most about is creating spaces and places where people can have hard conversations about life and faith. It’s not the easiest task. And to be honest, it’s much simpler to cultivate a safe space for recovery and healing than it is to create a space to hold our different theological differences in tension.

Intra-faith dialogue is sometimes far trickier than inter-faith dialogue.

Online conversations, while annoying, are often so much easier than face-to-face, in real life, with people that we know and love.

Those who lean to the left theologically and those who lean to the right usually have a pretty hard time talking about particular topics.

In a world–and church–that is continually becoming more polarized and fractured, how can we be agents of peace, holding our views strongly but respecting others who see things differently?

How do we cultivate real unity not uniformity in our groups, churches, ministries?

How do we unclench our fists and engage in difficult conversations with open hands and hearts?

How do we put relationship and friendship above doctrine and theological differences?

I definitely don’t have any simple answers, but I do know that for the past almost 10 years my friend and co-pastor at The Refuge, Karl Wheeler, and I have been wrestling with this dilemma.

It’s been so good.

So hard.

So beautiful.

So ugly sometimes.

But the truth is that we are still together despite our differences.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have wanted to run for the hills, throw in the towel, and circle my wagons with people who believe just like me. My friendship with him and a deep and passionate belief in what the church can be has kept me in all these years.

I love that The Refuge is the wildest mix of people of all shapes and sizes and experiences and theological perspectives jumbled up together. Christ’s love continues to bind us together in unity, but it sure can be uncomfortable sometimes (and definitely doesn’t look or feel like what I thought it would be).

This past summer, Karl and I had a little fun talking about all this with my friend Travis Reed from The Work of the People (there are some real gems on that site). We shared a bit of our story, along with a few ways we’ve tried to stay together despite our differences.

It’s called Different Not Divided: Practicing a Third Way 

Here is a little introduction video we made for Facebook that gives you a brief idea of the project.

There are six videos of us just talking with each other and with Travis about some of these issues:

  • Session 1 – Fight or Flight vs. The Third Way – Part One
  • Session 2 – Fight or Flight vs. The Third Way – Part Two
  • Session 3 – Unity vs. Uniformity
  • Session 4 – Safety vs. Comfort
  • Session 5 – Dignified Dialogue
  • Session 6 – Hope for the Church

The videos are a brief unedited launching pad for our greater hope for the material–that groups or staff teams or pockets of friends will watch or listen and then use the Discussion Guide questions to engage and practice together.

While it seems there are countless numbers of conversations about how divided the church has become (and how people are either fighting or fleeing) there are very few practical tools and tangible ways to move forward and practice a third way. We tried to write the Discussion Guides in a simple and interactive way, sort of like we are in the room with everyone. They include ways to apply these ideas to your context, questions to consider together, practical exercises for self and group reflection, and a few specific skills to practice.

We have not mastered any of this. In fact, if there was a video camera rolling for some of our conversations over the past decade, we could be the comedic examples of how-definitely-not-to-do-it. 

Over the years it’s been downright embarrassing, how violent and unsafe my communication can be when I am on the defense, how I wrote the dignified dialogue guidelines but often suck at practicing them, how some of these conversations about Christian theology bring out the worst in me (and sometimes the best in me, too).

The one thing I do know is that with God’s help it is also so possible.

That the kingdom of God is sometimes like an evangelical and a progressive refusing to give up on leading and being in community with each other even though it’s hard, messy, and impossible to master.

If you somehow engage with the material–or pass it on to someone else who might need it–I’d love to hear what it stirs up!

More details on how to view and download the Discussion Guide are here at The Work of the People.

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.

7 Comments

  • That’s an amazing resource you have that Kathy. I wished there were more places like the Refuge in Malaysia. I know of one church where many people of different theological bents gather together, from evangelicals to universalists. But places like these are a rarity. You do good work providing refuges like this. In Asia, I suppose we don’t have the kind of divide between liberals and conservatives that you do have. For us, maybe our divide is between those firmly and happily in the Fusing stage and those who have gone on to other stages. Everyone seem to believe that moving beyond Fusing is a bad thing. That’s the only divide I can think about. Fostering aconversation between these two groups is gonna be … challenging.

    Reply
    • thank, elizabeth. in some ways, that is the divide here, too, because there’s such a huge chasm between those in fusing and those who have unraveled. oh, it’s a really hard one to bridge…peace and hope to you from colorado. glad to meet you out here!

      Reply
  • Thank you Kathy. I work in a congregation that is fearful of change. Some of them are fearful of people who are different. They don’t want their faith challenged. They would rather be right than welcoming. The work you are doing is part of the solution. I just want it change faster than it is!

    Reply
    • oh, it is so hard when you know “what could be” and how hard it is to get there. thanks for sharing a little bit of where things are at. peace and courage to you as you keep walking it out….

      Reply
  • Hi Kathy. I’ve watched the six sessions of your Practicing a Third Way. I thoroughly enjoyed them though the camera going in and out of focus so much did make me a little sea sick! I would love to share them with folks from my church community and wondered if you have put together a worksheet or list of discussion questions to go with each one? Many thanks for sharing so honestly and for having such a good story to tell … birthed through the trials of staying together!

    Reply

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