last what could be: freedom celebrated

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, healing, relationships, spiritual formation, the refuge 10 Comments

this is the last post on this 9 part series of some of my little dreams for what could be for “the church.”  i have had fun writing them and i thank you all for commenting & participating in the conversation either here or via emails & facebook.  i so realize that each of these posts have barely scratched the surface:

God expanded
pain welcomed
doubt honored
power diffused
equality practiced
love, mercy & compassion extended
justice pursued
creativity expressed

no doubt, each element could have been fleshed out and processed for much longer than one lengthy post, but it was my attempt to synthesize into something a bit more manageable. so here goes, the last one, my hope that we’d be people & communities where freedom is actively celebrated.

i have mentioned it many times before, but one of my all-time favorite passages of scripture is isaiah 61, luke 4:

the spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Jesus sets the captives free.  and captivity, in my opinion, has all kinds of facets.  there’s a freedom that comes from entering into they mysterious & powerful walk with Jesus.  there’s a freedom that begins to come as we recognize the Spirit’s work in our lives.  and there is a consistent and beautiful need for continued freedom in areas of our hearts, our lives until the day we take our last breath.  to me, freedom means greater and greater healing, a shedding of the things that hinder us and rob us of life & relationship & love. i think it looks gloriously different for everyone.  for a lot of christians there is a spoken or unspoken assumption that freedom means being able to say certain words & do certain things & live a certain kind of life.   freedom is so much more than that, more than what meets the eye.  it cannot be measured by our human eyes that focus on “progress” and “upward mobility” and “behavior change.”  a lot of freedom & healing sometimes means nothing circumstantial may change but our hearts, our relationships, our view of God & ourselves.  these are beautiful & powerful shifts that happen on the inside.

i think every church’s hope is that people who are part of the body experience greater and greater freedom in their lives.   this is not a new thought by any means.  but i think it is so very easy for us to get so focused on doing, building, growing, reaching that we can distract ourselves from what is right before us–people’s lives, their real stories & all that goes with them on the spiritual journey.

so how do we become people, communities, where freedom is celebrated?

cultivate real, authentic, meaningful relationships with people. yeah, this will always be the hardest part.  everyone knows how to produce a show, develop programs, and take care of “business” but how about the down-and-dirty relationship with people?  it is far too easy to default to the superficial, the practical, the hey-i-see-you-every-week-so-doesn’t-that-count? if we settle for that, we will miss the intricacies & beauty of real relationship with each other.  and without real relationship, it will be impossible to actually even know where people are experiencing freedom & healing.

resist our tendency to minimize or measure freedom. like creativity, we can often have a tendency to downplay freedom. to compare, to minimize, to assume that because we are still messed up in all kinds of other ways that  somehow any small shifts we make aren’t meaningful enough to celebrate.    oh this is such a miss.  every little bit of change is worth honoring!  one day of sobriety, one hard conversation that someone was willing to engage in, one asking another person for help instead of isolating, one bill paid on time, one job kept, one sliver of forgiveness offered against all odds, one stepping out of our comfort zone to serve another person, one moment of real laughter after a season of depression.  in my opinion, each of these are worth partying for!   each one a gift.  each one a glimmer of hope & healing & freedom, no matter how small it seems.  the more we celebrate, the more God we notice.

let others in on it.  last saturday night at the refuge someone slipped me a note and asked me to read it.  i snuck away to a back room and opened the envelope. inside was a letter & a small check made out to the refuge.  to most, this was maybe no big deal.  yeah, people write checks all the time.  but to her, this was the first check she had ever written in her entire life.  a huge history of trauma and abuse and addiction, she had never been financially stable.  through a series of steps she has been taking to get on her feet, she filed bankruptcy with the help of the legal clinic that jose works at & now has her very first checking account.  i asked her if i could share her letter with our community; we all hooted & hollered and celebrated with her. and every time i think about it i can’t help but smile.  i feel incredibly blessed because i get to experience these kinds of stories up-close-and-personal week after week, but part of my role is to help people consider letting others in on it so that it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle or only stay with me.  i think it’s important to cultivate a culture where we say “can you share this out loud so some hope gets passed on to others & we can celebrate together?” this takes courage on the part of people & safe spaces where every story is welcomed & honored.  but the more it is weaved naturally into our way of being, our culture, the easier it becomes.

help others notice it. it is so easy to become blind to what God is doing in our own lives.  this is why we need each other so desperately.  i can see in others what i often can’t see in myself; that’s why part of our responsibility as brothers & sisters on the journey is to point out, acknowledge, notice shifts and changes we see in each other.  the big things, the little things.  the seemingly imperceptible ways that we notice God healing, restoring, changing us that could so easily be overlooked.  be bold, call it out, draw it out, remind others what you see. and if someone is telling you what they see, humble yourself enough to try to receive their gift of encouragement & love.

becoming freedom celebraters will mean that we consistently ask God to give us eyes to see what he sees. the things going on far beneath the surface that could so easily be overlooked.  the things that the world might not measure as valuable or important.  the things that are reflections of love.  i think when it’s all said and done, i just mainly believe that we should become the best party throwers in town, people who always seem to be celebrating what God is doing in lives.

so here’s my hope for us as people, as communities:

that we’d have eyes to notice freedom & healing in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. that we’d become amazing party throwers, constantly celebrating God’s movement in people, no matter how big or small it may seem.

God, help us embrace your freedom & celebrate it in others.

* * * * *

there you go, my dreams for what could be for us as people, as communities.  what did i miss? what are some of yours? i am excited for what’s ahead in the new year. let’s keep trying, dreaming, exploring, experimenting, risking, sharing, learning, growing, changing, living, loving, seeking, finding, going.