"going back because there's no where else to go" – a video conversation

one of the things i love most about the carnival is the wide range of people who read here.  some are living out their faith outside the walls of an institutional church, some are still in, some are deeply dedicated to changing the system while others have tried and decided that it was time to spend their energy in a different direction.   one thing that is clear to me, though, is that many who read here are on a wild and beautiful journey and are willing to engage in ideas that may challenge, irritate, inspire, or encourage them along the way.

i have written many a time about how much i love the church*.  i put an asterik by it because to me the church has nothing to do with 4 walls, a set time, a sermon and some music; to me, the church is people gathered together in some way, shape or form to learn & practice the ways of Jesus & pass on love, hope, mercy, justice, and healing in a broken, weird world. at the same time, even though many of us have a romantic idea of what could be when it comes to the church, many more have resigned themselves to the non-romantic–believing that their dreams aren’t really possible and so they better just go with the flow and stick with what’s known, what’s available, where their other friends are going.   this piece is not designed for people who are happy with their institutional church and like going and don’t have any issues with it.  i fully respect that God is at work there and lots of people are finding what they need.  i never want to take that away from anyone; i know there are amazing 4-walls-and-a-great-program churches that are very helpful to many people.

in this video, we are talking about people who know in deep places in their hearts that it’s not working for them anymore, so they left.  for a while.  they enjoyed their sundays, the freedom.  they might have tried some other forms of church here and there, maybe some new emerging community, a small group, a house church, or hanging out with average people who don’t know anything about church and really are doing just fine.  but slowly, surely, somehow they get discouraged, lonely, bored, and end up back in “the system”–the grind of the weekly worship service, the kids program, the 30 minute message. they start going again or maybe never really left.  the bottom line to me is that the gravitational pull is strong, stronger than anyone thinks. i’ll admit, it makes me sad.  i can’t tell you the number of people i run into who tell me they are bored and tired of the grind, but they keep going because they don’t know where else to go.  yes, it can be lonely out here.  yes, it is confusing and maybe not as clear.  but this is how new ideas, new dreams, new connections, new friendships, new life, new faith communities, new hope can be born. not in stagnant, play-it-safe scenarios, but in the step-out-of-all-you-once-knew and trust-that-somehow-God-will-do-something-wild-in-you-that-will-scare-you-and-change-you-forever.

anyway, my friend john and i videoed a few conversations on my computer, nothing edited, nothing scripted, just a little piece that reflects some of the nutty conversations we have now and then.  listen in. i’d love to hear some of your thoughts.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/11127101]

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.


  • Hey guys –
    So honestly I was a bit annoyed by some of this conversation, I’m not sure if that is because it is hitting a sore spot or what.

    Let me bullet point my story to give a bit of background…
    – Part of a young hip church for three years in our early 20’s
    – Left that church after discovering layers of control and manipulation in the leaders
    – Got super pumped about “doing church differently”
    – Gathered some other people together to start dreaming about that
    – My husband and I spent the next year pulling “church” apart piece by piece while the other people we had gathered were not willing to go as far
    – During my third pregnancy everything unraveled with this group and relationships severed and there was no restoration found with a couple of the women
    – My husband and I trekked to a church 40 minutes away for two months out of guilt
    – Finally we said enough and decided to stop going to church
    – We were out of church for about 10 months (these were both some of the moments revealing and painful months of my life – for various reasons)
    – We have now moved to California and have started going to a church here

    So this brings me to this place where I guess you guys are talking about. I left and now I’m back. No it’s not your typical church for this area but it has the same set up; pastor up front, sermon, songs, coffee.

    I feel like I’m in this place where I don’t know which direction to go. So I guess what you said is kind of annoying because you make it sound simple and I’m not so sure it is.

    I’m not looking for the church to take me someplace but I am desirous of traveling this journey with other followers of Jesus.

    This church has some really good people in it – it has a lot of potential – there is loads to be changed. I’m just not sure if I want my energy going to changing it.

    That’s probably for me to figure out but that’s my story. And in answer to your ? – I think we “went back” because we moved to a new area and it was a good time to explore.

    I am a bit of a dreamer/visionary so the desire to birth something new someday or partner with someone in that process always tugs at my heart…

    Thanks for sharing your story, my family and I are going to come visit Denver in July, perhaps we can connect for coffee or something…

  • I love yeah Kathy!! Thanks again for your wording things for me!! it is so true all of this, i whished i could be near YOU!! X

    Sorry for not keeping up !! I am soooo Busy!!! We need to talk very soon!! If you have time anyhow thanks for you video!X

  • Hmmmm, didn’t John say in an earlier video that he doesn’t call (use the term) himself a “Christian”. I think I heard him use that word on this video. (Please know I’m only teasing you guys here!!) ;-0

    For me, living in a really, really rural area, my “church” options are very limited. I’ve stopped going to church because I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I so wanted (and still do at times) that connection with Jesus. But it’s difficult to make a connection if you’re not allowed to ask questions. I tried speaking with a couple of local pastors who looked at me as if I had two heads – both spewing pea soup and spinning around in unison – when I asked why things were done certain ways. Don’t ask questions just accept what the Bible says – based on what the preacher says it said.

    I’ve gotten frustrated with the whole thing. And for reasons I’m not sure about, I’ve gotten angry at God. Which I am sure is a no no in some rule book. So for now I’m just cooling my heels and hanging around the fringe of religion.

    Thanks for allowing me to hang around the your blog.

  • Jesus came to bring His Kingdom to earth and we responded by forming a new religion with many agendas, few of which have much relationship to anything Jesus taught, contrary to what that religion tells us. Some of us believe this to be a fact. For many it is just a gut instinct.

    Talk to someone who has never attended a “church service” after they attend their first one. Most immediately pick up on the “club” atmosphere, the authority issues, the political overtones, the money and power issues and the fact that they probably won’t be really accepted unless they have an inside track with the power brokers in the group.

    Many of us refuse to play the game. Unfortunately, finding alternatives especially “church” alternatives can be daunting. So some return to the “church” and just put up with the crap as the price they must pay to be part of what is the closest thing they can find that sort of feels like church.

    Then there are those of us who refuse to die a slow death by church. We find that there are actually many ways to follow Jesus that does not have to include being part of that religion called “Christian”. Recently a friend asked about my religious leanings. He has been hurt by the church and wants nothing to do with churches or Christians. I told him I am not religious, but a Christ follower. That resonated with him and he wants to hear more about how I do that.

    My wife and I find many opportunities to live out the teachings of Jesus among our neighbors, coworkers, friends and casual acquaintances that we never found in institutionalized religion. We have noticed that when these people are facing a major life crisis, they often call us first, even though they belong to some religious group. If they need a priest, minister or rabbi to preside over their marriage, that’s who they call. If they just got home from the doctor’s office where they were told they have terminal cancer they call us. I think that means they know we care because the Jesus we serve cares.

    Some people decide they can no longer tolerate church as they know it, so they form a new group they call “church”. They identify the elements that they disliked from their previous churches, and change those things in their new church. However, everything else looks pretty much like the old churches – because that is all they know. How many of these groups still exist after a couple of years?

    If the old model wasn’t working, why try to reuse parts of it? We gotta think totally outside the box and make it look like Jesus. Ask our non-Christian, non-religious friends who have been left with a bad taste in their minds when it comes to Christians and churches what they think something that looks like Jesus looks like, feels like, tastes like. Maybe that would be a good place for us to start.

  • yay! i got through an entry without a child needing me.

    i just wrote you an email but now i realize that my email could totally answer this video lol.

    I “go to” church even though it’s not church to me for 2 reasons. 1 – to get my son some structure/teaching since we can’t afford preschool. and 2 – so that I can be around my friends and church family. I guess I am beginning to realize that even if I’m not sold out for the way things are being done – that’s where grace comes in…. and much like I can’t just leave my family — I can’t leave my church family because I don’t like some decisions they have made. so i guess until my presence bothers them, then we will stick around for now… since every area of my life is a bit chaotic right now – it’s easy for me to sit on the fence and play all sides. being church during the week and sunday… even if I’m in a place on sunday where people “do” church.

    I can BE on Sunday with them while they DO and still use that time to love/be with even them.

    am i making sense?

    i totaly get what you’re saying in the video… i’m at a different perspective right now… i don’t feel i “go” to church because i am trying to be/do something or “get it” like others do…. i do actually see a lot of spiritual immaturity “at church” and don’t feel they have something/get something i don’t… i more still “go” I guess because the same reason Jesus hung out with many different types of people. it isn’t where I “get” my food — but it is where a lot of friends (“fellowship”) are, so we ‘go’. so i’m not gonna avoid them if thats where they are – i love them and want to be with them.

    ahh gotta run! miss u!

  • esther, thanks for ur comment. i understand much of it.

    like this:

    “I’m not looking for the church to take me someplace but I am desirous of traveling this journey with other followers of Jesus.”

    and this:

    “I am a bit of a dreamer/visionary so the desire to birth something new someday or partner with someone in that process always tugs at my heart…”

    I hear you.

    and then another part of me asks – why do I want to go against the flow? why do I feel the need to move so urgently/immediately and completely… cutting all ties….is it truly because of a vision given to me… or is it a lack of grace for those God put in my life? that I can’t stick around… or is it because I have a big issue.. one many in my generation have… with self-love and wanting to be an attention grabbing against the flow type…or a christian rockstar traveling the globe… rather than a regular old nameless plodder willing to do the ‘small’. I really believe God is looking and needing more people willing to do and be the ‘small’.

    just rambling. feels good to get on here and ramble again! 🙂 gotta run again!

  • P.S. again
    to clarify — I don’t think that God asks *everybody* to stick around with the church/people that they are seeing things wrong with…..

    all I was trying to say was that for *me* right *now* at least…. I don’t hear Him asking me to break away entirely even though I don’t like or agree with the do-ing and thought process that sundays are ALL that ‘church’ is.

    I wanted to make sure to anybody who reads the comments understood that I completely know the pain/hurt that some have had by their ‘church’ and that they did NEED to get away entirely

    I was just trying to give another point of view that that isn’t always the case. there’s never a black/white it seems… always a unique situation and journey for each of us so there’s not a one size fits all solution.

    gotta run again – just wanted to make sure i was just adding in where I am right now — not trying to make a statement of where I think all should be! 🙂

  • Oh I can completely point to the memories when I felt like I was spiritually “drowning”, and felt that the least I could do was at least wade to the edge of *some* mega-church pool, so that I (and others… and God?) could see that I was still in the game.

    Actually, even when I couldn’t stomach the system anymore, I still tried so so so hard to do what I thought was my obligation & to stay “in” christianopoly for others. Therefore, I totally got the part of the fab Kathy/John video of “Why do we feel the need to have to go to church?” I would have said, um, for my non-existent holy stamp card?

    ( I was also prettttty sure that I was being judged by the Target employees when I went on any given Sunday am/afternoon by not being in a pew. )

    And yet? The truth was that I was sooo scared; that the time, the energy, the heart, the waking up early.. was all a waste. So I made constant feeble attempts to send myself to.where.I.wouldn’t.ever.send.a.hurting.wounded.person.

    I remember a time when I couldn’t fathom saying this… but found love again for the church, my faith, my beliefs!, when I really thought that huge part of my story was over. However….instead of a shallow kiddie pool, I discovered a crazy fun water park. 🙂

    • how’d i miss you, girl? sure didn’t mean to, sometimes it’s a little distracting around here, ha ha. anyway, you hit it on the head, really, that “need” to somehow go (because it’s in us i think, in a good way, to long for deeper and real and active and passionate community and faith)… i really like what you said “so i made constant feeble attempts to send myself to where i wouldn’t ever send a hurting wounded person.” isn’t that so interesting? we wouldn’t recommend it yet we are spending time there. hmmm. anyway, i am so glad you are in the crazy fun water park now. thank God for life preservers…xoxoxo

  • esther – i am so good at annoying people in different ways, ha ha. i am glad it stirred some stuff up because part of what i like about the conversation is that i am not trying to convince anyone of anything. i am just trying to provide a venue to think about some of these things. and i really do think this is one worth thinking about because until people start voting with their feet, the same ol’ same ol’ will keep perpetuating. but i like it when people value and honor what works for them–no matter what that is–and don’t worry about what people think. no community is perfect, no church has all the perfect elements and there are always things to be changed. my main concern is always that those dreams and visions and passions get killed off over time because it looks too hard or impossible so people settle and just get in a comfortable groove that is actually pretty boring and disconnected ultimately. sometimes it’s good to have seasons like that, there’s nothing wrong with simple– but i also don’t think that was really the big idea of the kingdom and living out the gospel. and i don’t think that only comes from “church.” oh yeah, it would be so fun to hang out in denver, let me know when you guys are planning on coming.

    els – hello from afar, my dear. i miss you, too, it’s been so nutty around here with josh graduating. let’s skype in a few weeks when we get back from out of town. i’ll facebook you. thanks for listening and reading and being part. xo

    gina – thanks for sharing and being part from afar. not sure where you are? yeah, when i hear stories like that i get kind of mad because “because we said so” or “because the Bible says so” isn’t a good answer to tough questions. it’s hard, the anger at God thing, for me, too, sometimes. when i see so much weird stuff perpetuated and “blessed financially”, etc. etc. there’s so much i don’t understand. peace to you and i am glad you are here.

    sam – i so love your heart and passion. honestly, it always just makes me smile and remember that change is so possible, but it is quite radical. i love what you said here: “Ask our non-Christian, non-religious friends who have been left with a bad taste in their minds when it comes to Christians and churches what they think something that looks like Jesus looks like, feels like, tastes like. Maybe that would be a good place for us to start.” most all my non-christian/non-churchy friends will say: umm, we want to see love, grace, mercy, justice in action. peace to you guys in the wild frontier…

    – thank you for your thoughts and it’s good to hear from you. congrats on sweet baby girl! i hear what you are saying and totally respect that you need to do what you need to do. like esther, though, i do believe that real change won’t happen in the church when we keep submitting to systems that we don’t fundamentally agree with. i know that sounds harsh and maybe too strong but i think for the sake of the topic, i’ll just toss it out there. i can’t tell you the number of people who believe in full equality for women yet stay in churches that will never allow a woman to lead or teach beyond certain roles because “well, they’re just not there yet.” they won’t get there until people refuse to participate.i can say the same thing about leadership & programming & all kinds of other things. i do think that sometimes means sometimes we will miss out on the fun and the good stuff that is there. BUT i also of course 100% without a doubt believe that everyone needs to do whatever works for them and settle that in their own hearts. it sounds like where you are is a good place for you right now and that’s so great. i just like to press out that i hate to see people “go back” and give up because the gravitational pull is so strong. thanks for sharing, it is lovely to see the long journey and all the twists and turns. really fun.

  • “my main concern is always that those dreams and visions and passions get killed off”

    I hear what you’re saying. When we moved out to California that was one thing that I talked to my husband a lot about.

    Especially in regards to the women thing – thinking about what I thought about being in a church that did not value their voice, something inside of me felt like it would die.

    I think a lot of times the issue is that people just don’t know a way forward. And that’s probably where the power of story comes in.

    It’s hard online or in books to fully grasp the stuff that is happening at places like the Refuge. Real personal experience with a community that is doing church in a fresh way is probably one of the best ways to envision a new way forward.

  • understood! thanks for challenging me!

    keep on paving the way and spinning the dream/vision because I’m sure that eventually the groove I feel we are in will all of a sudden look like a rut and it will be time to move and I’m gonna be so thankful that others have ventured out so I can see more clearly what is possible and all that! 🙂

  • p.s. it IS such a long journey and I think that’s what I’ve come to realize for where I am right now… is that I don’t have to rush and try to have it ALL figured out. I tend to rush things…. God probably laughs at me so much.. He plants a seed in me for the future – just to sort of get me started in a direction… but when I get the seed i’m like okay lets go, the plant will be here TOMORROW we gotta go go go go go…. He’s gonna stop giving me seeds so far in advance haha…. but really He gave me the seeds not to act on them right away but to learn, grow, take small steps in that direction

    I realize that I can take it slow… and really the best harvests are when there’s a wonderful foundation built slowly with strong relationships. So for right now slowly venturing out and building other relationships is working. BUT I have to make sure sure I’m making a decision from God and not from my emotion — which I tend to do haha 🙂 I totally undersatnd I need to “press in” and make sure I’m not making decisions based on comfort and default (because “everybody else” is doing it)…. but really what God wants for me for NOW. Thanks as always! 🙂


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