i was about to post something else that i have been wanting to get up here, but i just couldn’t skip over where i’m at today & why i currently feel so undone. it will also help you understand why i have so much frustration in my heart toward “the church” & the systems and philosophies that tend to go along with it. yeah, i’m in the tank. i’m tired. i’m angry. i’m a bit confused. i want to throw in the towel but know that i won’t. i am deeply committed to the work that we do & i am not going to give up, but i guess i would love for others to know why i want to now & then and just how hard living out what i passionately believe about the body of Christ really feels like sometimes. when we planted the refuge 2 1/2 years ago we had a dream that “church” wouldn’t look like pretty much what most of us know “church” to be. we kept the word “church” because we believe deeply in our hearts that church the way it is and the way it should & could be are two different things. i wonder sometimes if keeping the word “church” has been one of our biggest mistakes because we are often misunderstood. you see, in so many ways (but not all ways) we probably more closely mirror a nonprofit christian agency. we are in the trenches with friends both in and outside of our community who are sinking, desperate, tired, lonely, struggling, and ready to throw in the towel on life, on God and call it a day. our weekly gathering on sunday eves is just one small place of hope each week in and amidst other gatherings & the much bigger picture is the scope of relationship after relationship after relationship both in and outside of “the refuge” that is cultivated and nurtured over the other 6 days & 22 hours of the week. all of these relationships are extremely life-giving to me no matter how intense they sometimes can be; it’s not the relationships, the pain, struggle, or intensity that drains me.
here’s why i get overwhelmed: we rarely get any extra outside help, some relief. we have tons of people who tell us how much they respect the work that we do, that they have a “friend they’d love to get to the refuge” (aka, they would never cut it at their church) & “think it’s so cool what you are trying” (and i always want to say back to them, umm, this is not supposed to be that out of the ordinary folks). but very few people outside our community actually show up and say “what can we do to help you live this out? how can we help relieve some of your pressure? how can we serve some of these single moms, dads, and struggling families? what do you need?” people inside our community do & the spirit of generosity is amazing, but honestly our needs are so great, resources so few that we just need new wells (and i’m not just talking about money). i do not want to sound like a whiner, i am sure that some will think i am. i am just trying to say out loud that sometimes i realize we are “first responders” and sometimes first responders get really really tired & need some extra love and encouragement. i also have this weird feeling we’d get some if we weren’t a “church” but actually a para-church ministry because somehow it just easier to wrap ones head around. aren’t churches about worship services & offering boxes & sermons & competition, but “ministries”, now we understand that. another issue is that so many supposedly “mature” christians (the kind that tithe & serve & show up regularly) want to be “fed” and get their “church needs met” (aka: great sermons, bible studies, kids programs, being with people like them, and a chance to ‘serve’), they really stay insulated from real relationship with diverse, equally-messy-but-maybe-just-a-little-more-honest-about-it people who not only need them, but they actually need, too. want to know the number one reason people have expressed to us why they couldn’t hang at the refuge: “we just want to be around less broken people” and “i don’t have the issues these people have” and “we just don’t feel comfortable” and “we just need more.” i get so confused on this because i am pretty sure the kind of spiritual transformation Jesus was talking about was going to come through being uncomfortable, sacrificial, and radically challenged in the love-relationship-people department. i have no idea how the system has become so far-removed from this, but it’s there, it’s pervasive, and it’s so obvious that the average american church culture places a much higher value on christian studliness, strength, power, and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps than on honesty, vulnerability & weakness (just stroll into the christian bookstore or flick on your tv to see which pastors have made it to the bigtime and it’s kind of hard not to notice).
for the past 11 years the one ongoing difficult conversation i have had with “the church” is to try to help us recognize our brokenness & see that we are all in the same beautiful boat in need of God’s grace, that spiritual poverty is a good thing not a bad thing, that Jesus came for the sick not the healthy, that the outside of our cup means nothing but God is concerned with the inside, that becoming a more loving human being is more important than how many bible verses we know or how many programs we handed out. i have stood on tables & utterly humiliated myself to fight for this theology of brokenness to be lived out in more than just words. unfortunately, over and over again, i have bumped up against a “we’re well, they’re sick” mentality, a subtle & not so subtle “go get fixed and then you can come back & be with us” when pain starts entering the room, a “you need to stop using words like messy, desperate, broken because they are making ‘some people” uncomfortable (as in, big donors)”. at the refuge, i don’t have to deal with political players that need to be pacified or they’ll stop giving money or worrying about keeping someone in our hip pocket; we’re all in the same beautiful boat & i am thankful for it, but the truth is often it feels like there are leaks everywhere & we’re bailing water as fast we can but we’re absolutely nowhere on the coast guard’s radar.
yesterday was just one of those days from start to finish that was filled with friends in despair & mental illness & brain tumors & safehouses-to-escape-abusive-husbands & divorces & suicidal thoughts & brutal church woundedness, and i only had one thought running in my head over and over and over again “people have no freaking idea that this is what an average day at the refuge looks like” (that was right after the “i just got paid all day what some therapist friends get paid in 25 minutes“) and then it was followed by “where in the $!^#)%$*@ is some help outside of us?” and then i just cried all the way home. i am not working alone, don’t worry about that, we have a great community that shares the load and radically cares for people, but what we are missing is stability, help, and resources. and what’s so brutally painful for me is that i am aware of several new church plants that basically are completely funded & have no money worries. guess who they serve: white, evangelical suburban christians. yeah, there’s a good ol’ club with lots of money & power floating around out there & i’m definitely not a member. and yeah, i know the suburban poor & marginalized & invisible & really really hurting & church burnouts & fringers aren’t too sexy…
some of this is our fault, i recognize that, part is that we are always so caught up in the current crises that we don’t have time to get ahead of things, tell our story, and cultivate proper help. but at the same time, i will say, many many many people know our heart & the work that we do & praise our names and tell their screwed up friends & neighbors about us but very very few have actually said “we will help you.” i need to say something so important here: some of our/my closest most amazing supporters have come through this blog & a few other wonderful networks. you cheer us on from afar, you send me/us emails that support & encourage & keep me in the game, you send a check now and then & have absolutely no idea how much it means to us in a tangible way. please know i am so grateful for your love, your help, your hearts. please know none of my ramblings are meant to diminish any of that.
tonight, i just feel a little extra tired & frustrated at “the system” and wanted you to know where i was at instead of pretending like everything around refuge-kathy-land is hunkey dorey. thanks for listening, for caring, for understanding (or at least trying to, i am sure some of you disagree with some of my church ranting, that’s okay. just be nice to me, please, at least today?)