what could be: God expanded

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, spiritual formation 32 Comments

oh, what have i gotten myself into? that is the question i am asking myself these past few days.  i secretly (well, i guess publicly now) wish that every person that reads each post would take the time to comment so i could get a better pulse on real reactions to it (or maybe not because i’m probably afraid to know).  people are all over the place on things that i say here & sometimes it is just a bizarro feeling to have so much of my journey out here for the world to see.  that is why i only committed myself to one year of giving this a try. i’m coming upon the end of my adventure on december 30th, and i really am wrestling with what to do beyond that.  we’ll see.  i have let it rip here in so many ways & shared more of my heart & thoughts & dreams than i probably should have, and while i do not have an inkling of regret, i want to make sure i don’t end up in a spot where i think i have more to say than i actually do! but alas, it’s not december 30th yet & i think i do have a few more things to spit out & articulate before this year is up, so i better get cranking.

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what could be. i have so many dreams for what could be when it comes to “church.”  i want to remind everyone that when i say church it has nothing to do with buildings or institutions or specific structures.  we are the church.  so wherever we “the people” go, so goes the church.  my hope is always that Christ will be reflected through us, that we could become safer people, riskier people, more compassionate & passionate & loving people.  people who are more open to the mystery of God, to a beautiful acceptance that even though our human tendency is always to attempt to limit & define God, that part of what could be might include an expansion of our God borders in all kinds of ways.

i think this is one of the touchiest subjects for the average evangelical christian.   many have been taught that all we know about God is recorded in the scriptures and that our exegetical interpretation of it will satisfy our thirst for understanding.  we have come to equate knowledge with faith.  many cannot allow themselves to admit that the truth is that we really don’t fully know all the ins and outs of who God is and what the Bible fully means.  we are just giving it our best shot.  years ago when i was just starting the counseling program at seminary i had an extremely conservative christian friend who argued with me about my choice, worrying that many christians had mixed too deeply with modern psychology, even at seminaries, and the only counseling that was considered valuable and right in God’s eyes was “biblical counseling” (she was taking the course at her church).  i remember our tense and, in my opinion, extremely sad, conversations and telling her “just so you know, just because it has the word “bible” in it doesn’t mean it’s 100% anything…you’re just learning your instructor’s view of the passages and how to apply them to people’s lives, that’s all.” i’m not saying that her biblical counseling course was bad,  i’m just saying we need to be more honest–none of us have the market cornered on God’s exact intentions for everything.

i tell this story because i think it’s more common than some of us would like to admit–this idea that we can squeeze God down to our limited experience, tag the word “Bible” and “God’s truth” to it and call it a day.  that is such an unfair, egocentric way to live in relationship to the many others who might see it differently.  and unfortunately i was guilty of it for many years.  when i look back on my faith certainty, my smugness, my sureness-that-there-really-was-just-one-way-to-do-God-and-it’s-called-mine, i am thoroughly embarrassed (and trust me, i know i can sound that way when it comes to church things, too. yes, i am working on it).

so what does it really mean to be people, communities who expand our God borders, who make room for unknowns, for doubt, for mystery, for unique expressions? i don’t fully know, but these are a few things that at least make my short list:

be more honest about what we do not know. quit pretending that our interpretation of the bible is the one right way.  recognize that there are scholars all over the place, equally educated, equally passionate, who can see the same scriptures from a completely different perspective; never for a moment can we assume that their scholarly-ness means they must be right (or wrong, for that matter).  acknowledge that others can and probably do see it differently, that ideas about God don’t need to be so black and white, so certain, that true faith is something that has so many dimensions & facets & elements that are truly unexplainable.  become more comfortable with adding “i don’t really know, but…”

reckon with our human tendency to label and define. it’s in our DNA to create structures and packages for our experiences so that we can feel more comfortable. i can’t dismiss for a minute that there are people who talk about Jesus in ways i am not used to.  i remember questioning people’s faith all the time because they weren’t quite delivering the goods the way i liked. i’d say “well, i am not really sure they are a christian” when in reality the only thing i was focusing on was their lack of specific words that would make me somehow more sure they were on the same team. oh it is so rude & limiting!  i live in a world now where so many people i know never ever use language that is somehow the “sign” of being a christian yet their faith is more evident than most anyone i know.  faith is not limited by a certain style of language.

stop trying to manage people’s experience with God.  more on this later because i think we tread on dangerous ground when we stomp on the beauty and value of doubt in our christian experience.  i admit, i am always a bit relieved when people are feeling God’s presence and peace in real ways, but the reality of many conversations i am in is that people are really all over the place in their journey with God–disconnected, disappointed, confused, angry, all kinds of feelings that can freak us out if we’re not careful.   inside so many christians’ experience is this idea that true intimate relationship with God is happy, close, personal, fulfilling.  so when we’re not feeling that way, we somehow think we suck, that we’re not doing something right, that something must be “wrong” with us.  when we let go of corralling people’s experiences with God into any kind of tame & manageable place, i think something significant shifts & a freedom opens up to the full range of emotions & experiences with God, instead of only the ones that some people deem “acceptable.”   i know a lot of folks who appear to have gone “down the slippery slope” in all kinds of religious circles’ eyes, but they are probably feeling more connected to the true heart of Jesus & their faith than ever before.  i think people & churches need to break our codependent need to keep everyone’s faith in check & let people be whereever they are at, trusting that God is big, creative, powerful & can live in the tension even though it might make us anxious.

let what’s uncomfortable teach us. in one of my spiritual formation groups at seminary our leader played a musical piece exploring the feminine side of God.  oh, what an interesting response she got! arms crossed, hearts closed off, “we-can’t-let-ourselves-go-there” reactions.  i admit, that was almost 7 years ago and i wasn’t quite as off-the-edge as i am now, and i remember saying out loud how it did indeed make me feel uncomfortable but i was open to exploring it instead of assuming it had nothing to teach me. that one experience was the beginning of a glorious slippery slope (or beautiful ascent, depending on which side you’re on) that expanded my view of God far more than i would have ever imagined.  sitting with & wrestling with the discomfort is so hard to do, but i believe it’s what the “church” is supposed to provide for people–discomforts that cause us to think, wrestle, and move.  Jesus was the consummate question-asker, tension-creator, comfort-remover, and i think it would serve us well to have more courage to live in the crazy tension instead of always trying to smooth out the wrinkles.

i admit as a spiritual guide & leader in our community, letting go of overly controlling people’s experiences with Jesus & leaving room for a wide range of expressions does cost something.  it’s chaotic.  it’s a bit unsettling.  my controlling tendencies & nagging church-leadership-voices sometimes leave me thinking that i “should do something” to bring that person over to the land of right-thinking & words-that-will-make-me-feel-more-comfortable.  but in reality, what i am learning is to hold that at bay, love as best i can, take my clenched fists off other people’s spiritual steering wheels, and let God do the driving.

oh this barely scratches the surface, but here’s my hope for what could be: 

that we’d be people & communities that wouldn’t be afraid to expand our God borders personally & corporately. that we’d give freedom for people to be all over the place on the journey & that we’d have eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to notice God-at-work in ways maybe we never even saw before.  that we’d provide expansive room for people to explore what it means to know & follow Jesus without feeling judged, squeezed down or forced to conform in order to be in relationship with us.

God, expand us & help us expand You.