it stinks down here, but i really love the smell…

i like to participate in glenn hager’s monthly synchroblog (check out the other links here) just for fun because it forces me to think about some specific topics and i get to read about what some others are saying, too.  this month was just a few simple questions…

  • how  are you doing?
  • what are you doing?
  • what are you learning?
  • what are you dreaming about?  

the questions seemed timely.  the refuge just came upon its 2 year anniversary (hard to believe) & i just came out of a pretty wild & weird healing season where some important things about me & this crazy adventure became more clear.  you see,  just a little over 2 years ago i went from the olympic sized swimming pool with the super-amazing gym and spa attached (aka: cool/hip growing politically savvy mega-church that honestly puts on the most amazing service) to the plastic baby pool that someone bought at their neighbor’s garage sale (aka: small creative crazy missional church plant dedicated to community, equality, diffusing power & giving everyone a voice but really can’t pay its bills).  my downward descent has been the most beautiful & amazing thing that could have ever happened to me. in fact, it rescued my heart, saved my faith, and awakened a sense of justice & passion in me that was always there but couldn’t freely be expressed.  i’m learning more than i bargained for, here are just a few things off the top of my head:

my desperation to be “valid” has been getting in the way of freedom.   i long sometimes for church amnesia.  that i could erase all of the things i had learned about “success”, “ministry”, “leadership” and all of the other stupid measures of what made things good & viable.   you see in my old circles valid ministries “grow”, “get financially stable,” and “build up new strong leaders.”  so when i have looked at the refuge i have been a little embarrassed.  i hear the words of successful christian leadership books & see how much we are falling short.  it taps into my insecurity & woundedness, and my good-pull-it-together-instincts immediately start to kick in. i then control & manage and try to prove that the refuge is important, that i can “do this.”  and then i get exhausted. overwhelmed. discouraged.  i am learning that none of the old rules apply. we are cultivating & nurturing a faith community that is really only about one thing:  relationships.  that’s pretty much it.  open-handedly & open-heartedly loving people in and outside of our community in really tangible ways that takes an incredible amount of time, emotional & spiritual energy, and grace. recently the skies opened and i saw clearly how i have been overtly & covertly wasting energy trying to prove something to myself, to God, to others.  in the past few months i will say God has brought my fears & insecurities to the forefront in some really painful but lovely ways that have given me great hope that i don’t have to live out of that place.  the only way for me to be free is to completely throw out the old measures of success and look in one direction & one direction only–where God’s spirit is at work in the hearts & lives of the people right in front of me.

men & women living alongside each other in community creates amazing healing & spiritual transformation.  in my entire spiritual journey i have never experienced this many men and women truly doing life together.  we are learning what it is to be brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends, co-workers…for each other.  we are learning to fight for each other, fight with each other, serve together, give, receive, believe in each other & point each other towards Jesus’ hope & redemption.   i am learning how to be more comfortable in my own skin, to use my voice, to screw up and let my friends see my bad side, to risk, to put myself out there, to let them know how much i need them when everything inside of me has been taught to not need anyone.   out of everything the refuge does, our dedication to creating a community where men & women have equal power & voice & value is one of the things i’m most proud of. 

the theology of brokenness is not popular.  this kind of authenticity, raw-ness, is really really scary for a lot of people.  they want answers, healing, clear-cut movement that is tangible & measurable.  they want to see results.  sometimes i want it, too, but i think that’s us wanting to relieve our anxiety about seeing other people struggle, accepting our own struggles.  it’s us wanting to manage, control, play God, strive for “victory.”    a theology of brokenness embraces our spiritual poverty, our questions, our doubts, our desire for love, hope & redemption, and reminds us that the stink & the beauty are all wrapped up into one.  we can’t just focus in on one or the other. instead, both must be in full-view together as much as possible.  personally, i think that’s the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the upside-down ways of the kingdom, but i think the tug toward put-together-ness is stronger than we all like to admit and so often people look for powerful, smart, faithful leaders with clear cut answers who can heap on just a touch of shame to motivate them.  living in the trenches of real life full of honesty toward God isn’t always pretty, isn’t always measurable. 

my dreams are simple:  1) more and more men & women try living out these kingdom principles together in whatever shape or form works for them & lights their hearts on fire. 2) that money rains down from heaven or seeps up from the cracks to keep us afloat & the dream alive.

yeah, it definitely stinks down here.  real life, actually really knowing how your neighbor is doing, sharing burdens, giving voice to the voiceless, extending our hearts, our time, our lives to people in really tangible ways. it is downright smelly. but i wouldn’t trade it for anything.  to me, humanity, divinity…together & all so exposed…well it really does create the most beautiful scent.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Nah, that’s just me. I forgot my deodorant today. 😉

    Kathy, your experiences are so encouraging because there is such reality in them. Thanks for always sharing from the heart. It helps me know I’m not crazy.

  • Kathy ~ I love what you say about brokenness and community and I have concluded that the dream is stinky. Church has become play life and has been lacking a sense of reality. Programs have replaced relational ministry because dealing with people is so messy. People have become fearful of being real, so we have play acted. Yet, when we get real, we find God is already there and in that context our lives take on new meaning. May God bless you. You are one of my heroes!

  • “a theology of brokenness embraces our spiritual poverty, our questions, our doubts, our desire for love, hope & redemption, and reminds us that the stink & the beauty are all wrapped up into one.”

    Can you print that on a T-shirt for me? If not, perhaps on wallpaper? Or on a bathroom mirror?

    I could–and probably need to–read that everyday and it would not loose its impact.

  • “the theology of brokenness is not popular.”

    Boy, I can relate to that statement in particular. 🙂

    An encouraging post. Thanks for sharing it.

  • I love love love this line. “i long sometimes for church amnesia.”

    I am finding that it is so much harder to unlearn things than learn things, and the more that I age, I find that the more broken I am. Kinda like the velveteen rabbit! Thanks for normalizing the process to help the rest of us feel less alone. 😀

  • I’m with Jeff McQ’s comment, above. I think if more people understood that embracing our brokenness brings such freedom they’d jump right on the bandwagon. Instead, many spend all their time talking about “victory.” I’ve spent the last year and a half swimming upstream against the victory messages, learning this lesson, and it is a powerful one that brings LIFE even if it looks really ugly sometimes! Kathy, I know you’ve seen as I have that the more we accept our brokenness, the more other people can relate to us, and true intimacy in relationships can flourish.

  • hey all, thanks for taking the time to comment…

    HW – it really is. i think i’m enjoying and noticing the beauty more than i have ever before. i don’t want to miss it…

    erin – i wonder if we really ARE crazy but at least we are all crazy together? i am so happy to be in such great company. i LOVED your poem, by the way. it was so beautiful..

    glenn – yes, my friend, the dream is stinky! love it.

    jeromy – well that’s a lot to fit on a tshirt, ha, but a friend of mine from the refuge made a fun one that said “the refuge: where everyone stinks but we love the smell!” ha. but really, back to that statement about the theology of brokenness, i need to be reminded of this same thing every day–that both the ugly & the beautiful co-exist…

    jeff – thanks for sharing. i really enjoyed your post, too.

    stacy – i am so with you, unlearning is so much harder than learning. sometimes when i’m around people who don’t have church baggage i am soooooooo jealous. i’m like “wow, so you don’t think that?” that is why we all need each other so much, though, to remind each other that we’re not crazy (or at least we are crazy together, see above!). sometimes on this blog i’m like “oh man, some of these people must be saying gee whiz, she sure is messed up, she needs to get some healing and get her act together.” that is some of the carnival on my head. but i am learning to say “yep, it’s true, i am messed up. but i am learning more about God & life & people & hope than i ever learned when i was so focused on getting my act together to make you feel better about me.”

    tracy – i so agree, it is so freeing, so transforming.

  • Hi Kathy ~ My wife and I have recently started a group of young adults. We get together every couple of weeks and sometimes we study, sometimes we talk but always, we are together sharing. It is the closest thing that I have felt to real fellowship in a long time.

    The hardest thing for me has been to learn how to forget about structure and just let things go whatever direction they will. Of course, there is Zoloft for that! 😀

  • Hi Kathy.
    I really got a lot from your post! I’m in leadership in a standard church here in Australia and it has it’s challenges but I love it. I wish there was a way to combine that sense of community within the place I inhabit! I believe it has to be possible.

    I envy(in a good way) your ability to fail, have weaknesses and let your God-family see you warts and all! I’m learning how to be me, stuff up, grow, have issues, be a blessing etc in full view of those around me even if it means I don’t measure up to “leadership” ideals. After all, God will do in and through me whatever he wants if I’m real; inspite of what any person – leader or otherwise thinks.

    Thanks for encouraging me to let go and embrace the mess!

  • mike – thanks for stopping by. that is so great, the community that you and your wife are experiencing. letting go and not controlling “the way things go” is really hard for me, too, sometimes quite angst-provoking but always oh so good. we are conversational at our larger refuge gatherings, too, and sometimes we’re like “oh boy, wasn’t expecting that!” but it is so wild what God ends up using/doing.

    rachel – great hearing from you from afar, i am so glad to hear you are in a position that you love and can embrace the good with the not-exactly-how-you-want-it-to-be. i respect that so much. yeah, being real isn’t easy especially in some structures but it is so worth it because it means we are living honestly before God, ourselves, and the people we spend a lot of time with. hope to hear from you in future conversations, i am sure you will have a lot to add! best to you as you continue to lead & grow…

  • Great post! The pressure for validity is a strong one. I know what that’s like. It sucks that the majority of the Church in North America has embraced the conceptions of “validation through success” that are in the secular culture. Not much reflection of the kingdom of God in that.

    I always remember Jesus’s ministry: he came into the world unceremoniously, his ministry only lasted 3 years, most everyone wanted to kill Him, and when they finally did, all his followers abandoned Him. Uhh… nothing validating about that! 😀 Obviously, that story doesn’t end there, but you get my drift. What looks valid by outward appearances is generally totally different than what looks valid in the eyes of God, eh?

  • Hey Kathy,

    thanks, once again, for those great images. I love the swimming pool image, although I would like to suggest that maybe a kiddie pool is less accurate then something like a small pond fed by a spring in the wilderness somewhere. organic, refreshing, subtle but inspiring to everyone who sees it (or reads about it here…)

    you should write poetry… this post has a lot of potential! either that or a book: I love (as it seems a lot of people do) the term “Theology of Brokenness” because I think brokenness is responsible for so much of the ways we think about God.

  • “i long sometimes for church amnesia.” A year ago I was the one responsible for cleaning up the “stinky” parts so as to have the whole thing smelling like roses. We can’t have anything stinking up the space where miracles are supposed to take place. And if I couldn’t get it cleaned up properly I was just supposed to pretend that I didn’t smell a thing. I now see that it is wrong to live like this but I still can’t get over having a “fixing” mentality to those who are messy. It has taken me a year to admit that the one way did not work. I don’t know how I’ll do living in the mess (my own included) when a new fellowship presents itself. Thanks for living it out.

  • I find it hard to be in those relationship places with believers.

    When we tried that- everyone seemed to be picking up the old roles from the church- and some were fightnig for positions.

    It just didnt work.

    I spend time being in real relationships- just not with believers.

    It’s partly my own fault.

    I still want to defend my worth by the positions that I once held….

    I was the leader of this ministry….and this ministry…

    Knowing that in Christ, one is never more than a servant.

    old grave clothes that need to fall away.

    great post.

  • sarah – yeah, it’s so true, the weirdness of how things have become so worldly valuable and basically everything jesus was and spoke about was about how messed up that was. it is a great friendly reminder!

    ted – oh, your image is so much better. thanks. lovely. i actually felt kind of bad about calling this beautiful thing the baby pool bought at a garage sale but i was trying to make a point, ha!

    barb – it is so hard when that “fix it” stuff gets so engrained into our heart & head. i so respect your journey out.

    tera – thanks for stopping by again and for your continued honesty. this continual unbinding of the grave clothes, especially ones that the church wrapped us up in, is a long and painful and glorious process.

  • Glenn pretty much summed up my comments. The Theology of Brokenness should be a book, and you should write it (unless someone has beaten you to it and I’m clueless . . . ).

    Amnesia would be very nice. My church experiences have left me quite scarred, but I’m getting past it all and moving on, one shaky step at a time. Easy? Nope. Worth it? Oh, my . . .



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