taking things off the table to get to what's underneath–a video conversation

a few months ago i tried something different here at the carnival–a video conversation with my friend john, who after a lifetime of christian ministry shed the label “christian.”  it stirred up a lot of great conversation here and in other places, too.  near the end of our conversation john shared that in order to get to a new place in his faith journey he needed to take “sin and salvation off the table.”  whoa.  those are some big words packed with a lot of charge.  the reason i think it’s so important, though, is that many people are talking about it but don’t have a place to process their questions properly.  i also think that like the word “christian”,  “salvation” has a lot of baggage with in all different kinds of ways.  and we make assumptions that everyone agrees on exactly what “sin” and “salvation” precisely, exactly means.

the part i love about john is saying is that sometimes–in order to get a deeper, free-er, more meaningful faith–we may need to shed some of our tightly held beliefs or suspend them in the category of “i really don’t know” and spend time and energy focusing on the things that we do know. in john’s case, the ways of Jesus–love in action–are the things he is trying to focus his energy on on this leg of his faith journey.  love in action is real-relationship-with-real-people-on-the-margins, caring for the poor, advocating for justice on others behalf, cups of cold water & tangible presence with people that supersedes “right” belief.  i know for those out there who say that you can’t believe in Jesus without certain things “on the table”, this might stir up some strong feelings or some “yeah, buts…” i totally get that.   but john–like others i know–are finding that unless they take certain things “off the table” they can’t get to what’s underneath.  and what’s underneath are Jesus’ ways of love in action.

this conversation reminded me of some powerful words a friend shared at our house of refuge last year (by the way, he is extremely conservative in terms of Bible-y stuff):  “something’s wrong if we can’t preach the gospel without heaven and hell.”

listen in & please share your thoughts and perspectives. that’s what this space is for.

ps:  sorry the audio’s not great & the angles are weird. i’m not a techy!

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/11121697]

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.


  • YAY for another video! 🙂 I totally *get* John’s experience with youth ministry, as I served with the same organization for 7 years, and also entered into this whole faith world through that channel. Living out the “earn the right to be heard” made soooo much sense to me then, as I believed that the “relational evangelism” model was the honest way to share my faith.. However, the truth of the matter is that the practice of doing so was honestly less on “relationship” than on finding the best opportune moment to sneak a little Jesus into the conversation.

    There was a time at a winter camp that a girl from a Christian family (who brought along her non-Christian friends) took me aside and said, “um, isn’t all of this kind of…..manipulative?” At the time, I tried to talk her out of that line of thinking, that no, of course not, the message was intended to be the best way “in” for her friends to hear the GOODNEWSFORGOODNESSSAKES!

    Years later, and lots of slipping & sliding down slippery slope land, I find myself in a whirpool of grace. Grace that wasn’t there before, becuase there was an actual agenda. A reason to be with the youth that I was in relationship before was, for me, another way to show to God that I was living a meaningful life. “See, I led another teen in the sinner’s prayer, seeeee?!?!”

    There is SO much more beauty & freedom in my life, like John, now that I don’t force people (overtly and covertly) into a pigeon-hole of narrow faith. The Christian ( btw, I will call you what I want John, my post ;)… ) world wants to have markers that indicate you are “in”, thus eliminating as much tension as possible. Hell, salvation, sin, baptism, on and on, are all areas that many still want others to be on the same exact no deviation from page. I love that the faith book that we are all creating is waaaay bigger than the magazine many of us lived out of for so long.

    You are a &^*%*%*% rockstar, John

  • I totally understand why a Christian would not want to go by that name. I sorta cringe when I say I am one. Ok, more than sorta.

    At this point in my life, having failed at the table cloth trick (tried to pull out the tablecloth but found that all the crap on it came tumbling off with it), I no longer know much about what is true, and really no longer care that I don’t know.

    But one thing I do know is that I have contributed to giving the Christian label negative baggage. That I am sure of. And because of that I can’t abandon the name. I hate it but I embrace it, because just as I contributed in a negative way I now want to contribute to redefining that word in a positive life giving, breathing way. So for me that means I just have to sit with the embarassment and discomfort while I just try to be an authentic Christian and walk in the ways of Christ.

    Besides, I just can’t really come up with an alternative word to describe my love for Jesus that is more authentic and true than the word Christian. And still I totally get why others would remove that word from their vocabulary.

  • I resonate more and more with the idea of people being ‘friends’ and not ‘projects’. Still have to grow more on that one.

    I also really appreciate Stacy’s comment about grace. I guess grace is part of all of those things that are often buried under sin and salvation. I never could quite figure out why ‘You are going to hell’ is such good news!

  • i agree with stacy: john, you’re a flippin’ rock star. talk about courage and outright faith – letting go of the security blanket (the pre-packaged salvation message as a ticket IN) and just being a human alongside other humans, making friends and trying to love with no strings. it’s so very hard because you have no bullet-proof vest, no armor, no prescribed path except for the grace and love of God.

    kathy, you are my hero as well (but you knew that). love you guys.

  • Kathy- I know you are a movie lover so I figure you must have seen Gran Torino?? What John is doing here just struck me as aligning with Clint Eastwoods character in that movie. He is a bitter racist who also has a deep sense of right and wrong and loyalty and integrity. He slowly changes and evolves after an asian family befriends him for protecting them from a gang. I think Johns style and approach would reach many more of the people like clint portrayed in that movie.

  • Perhaps someone has been reading “Friendship at the Margins” to suggest that we consider making people our friends rather than our projects. That is an excellent book!

    At the last Institutional Church we attended I was the “patio greeter” before and after the big show. I was surprised at how many people, many with only minimal church background, grasped almost immediately that the goal was to somehow get them “signed up” so they would attend, give money and volunteer to do some job in the church. Most of them understood, however, that the friendliness was only surface, like the friendliness real estate and car sales people exhibit, and only the privileged few actually had friendships with each other.

    There were exceptions, such as the couple who visited who knew no one. Someone asked them what they do and when they replied that one is a medical doctor and the other a well known professor, everyone wanted to be their friend. While ten or twelve people crowded around them, I was the only one talking to a poor, minority family who started attending at the same time.

    Many people made the doctor and professor their project – They wanted to be friends with important and influential people. Almost everyone ignored the other family. They weren’t even a project. Poor people did become projects sometimes – when it was possible to send money to some far-away missionaries to “minister” to the poor people to save their souls, and occasionally a small missions team to spend a couple of weeks building something for poor people in another country.

    As you said, Kathy, it is amazing how quickly “smell out” this kind of stuff, people who lots of church folk think are not very perceptive about “spiritual” things.

  • John describes the tabletop (sin/salvation and the must-beliefs) as a surface that prevented him from getting under and into the body/frame of the table and into the goodness down beneath. I see it like I was always crouched down inside the table, and the tabletop, (the things I must accept or believe) were like a ceiling that kept me from standing up, stretching and looking around and taking in all that was beautiful around me.

    I knew that there was cake at the party, but when I was told that I had to change who I am (it was argued that I was flawed and therefore needed to change) or believe a particular dogma in order to eat the cake, it was impossible for me to taste what I was putting in my mouth. And for years I believed the religion for fear of the alternative (death, depression, demonic harrasment, hell, etc…), but i always left the party feeling like I’d just had another run-in with a salt-lick, and not cake.

    It wasn’t until I threw off the tabletop and came up, JUST as I am and JUST as I should be, and was offered the experience to take in all the beauty, eat all the cake, just because I was a son (by birthright as a human/child of god/a stem of that victorious stock) that I was able to finally taste what I’d always believed cake might be like.

    Tell me I need to change for you to love me, (and I don’t need any bullshit about loving the sinner and hating the sin) and I will never be able to walk into your embrace.

    If I’m Jesus’ project, he’s lost all my trust. If he just wants me because I’m Jason and I’m worth being close to, I’ve got open arms.

    John wanted me, (and as I saw it, Jesus must want me too) and I pretty much eat cake every day now.

  • sorry that i am just now responding (in my head i already did, ha ha, i do that sometimes). anyway, thanks for your responses.

    stacy – i love the word “whirlpool of grace”….and yes, isn’t it so beautiful to see it up close and personal and have it be free, like really free…

    mary – i think that’s why i still use the word, too, because i have chosen to follow Jesus and i also have contributed negatively to it and positively to it in different ways through the years. regardless of all its connotations, etc., the reality is that i can’t shake Jesus. i have tried. i can’t.

    al – yeah, the projects feeling is the worst. i am glad this stirred up some good thought. thanks for being part here.

    phyllis – “just being a human among other humans” – and that is a beautiful thing. no agenda, no “i’ve got this thing on you” just people loving people without strings or condition. imagine that.

    robert – i really loved that movie, robert, it was one of my favs last year (i think it was last year, wasn’t it?) john, you’re like clint eastwood, ha ha.

    sam – i haven’t read it but i’ve heard about it. i knew that you’d connect with that part about smelling out being someone’s project…

    jason – oh jason this is so beautiful, your imagery, your experience, your freedom. thank you for sharing it here with us…i agree with you about the “loving the sinner and hating the sin” b.s., too. it’s such a cop-out. i’d rather people were more honest and just said “hey, i love you less because you’re not doing what i want you to do or believing what i want you to believe” than trying to masquerade it in that. did you see that jennifer knapp video that marty posted, btw? that made me think of that. hope to see you around soon. peace.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.