“the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”
– richard rohr
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i had an interesting conversation with a friend this past week who didn’t really know my story of the past 7+ years of the ups of working on a big church staff to the downs (in a good way, ha ha) of starting the refuge. stepping out of the path of ascent into one of descent started long before 7 years ago, but it wasn’t until i stepped out of “church-as-i-had-always-known-it” that my heart, practice, and the actual ministries i am in all lined up with greater integrity. before, i was always swimming against the tide, trying to change systems that honestly weren’t that interested in changing.
part of the conversation that arose with my friend is something that tends to be a fairly common one–many don’t understand why people who leave church have to be mad about it. “why can’t they just move on, quit looking back or being so angry, and just focus on something new?” i always have a strong reaction to this because i know in my own life, i wish it were that easy. but grief, my friends, doesn’t look like that. grief is messy. grief is unpredictable. grief includes anger, sadness, depression, and disorientation. when we leave behind all that we once knew, we can’t help but grieve. but, we also all know that western culture sucks at grieving so we don’t really know what that looks like. so friends tell us to “move on”, we tell ourselves “it shouldn’t hurt that bad, geez, it was only a church for goodness sake” and we stall out our healing. we also forget that issues of injustice and oppression, which are a lot of major reasons people find themselves “out” aren’t ones we can just “get over” in a flash. they tap into something far deeper about our dignity & worth and do a number on our head and hearts.
the best thing i ever did was let myself be a mess five years ago for a long time. it was one of the hardest things i’ve ever done, too, because anger scares me (and people around me who weren’t used to me expressing it, either). but i kept on moving through, letting myself feel hurt, sadness, loss, and anger, and eventually, most of it has dissipated over time. sure, i have moments where it seeps through & different experiences trip that wire inside of me that touches on raw feelings of oppression & injustice & hurt. i’m human. but on the whole, i’m in a completely different place.
and really committed to looking forward with hope, while sometimes glancing backward sometimes so i remember why i’m doing what i’m doing.
one thing i am struck with more than ever is that “the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better“. it’s the way we will ultimately change things. we also must remember we are human and sometimes we need to go through our raggy season of being critical and cynical and wounded for a while to learn “um, i don’t want to stay here forever because it’s really a drag.” and eventually we begin to get in touch with not “what was” and focus on “what could be”. we begin to see that we can, indeed, find all kinds of wild and beautiful ways to live out what we deeply believe.
that’s the season that i am in right now. life at the refuge is nutty, complicated, and hard. but i am also seeing “practice of the better” in real life. i am living in a culture that extends love mercy & compassion, welcomes pain, honors doubt, diffuses power, practices equality, pursues justice, expresses creativity & celebrates freedom in all kinds of simple, beautiful, unassuming, natural ways. to me, these are the core practices of downward mobility & part of my small contribution to “the practice of the better.” yesterday, i hit the final “send” button on down we go: living into the wild ways of Jesus back to the publisher. on june 1st it hits the streets. i’ve been a little weepy all day yesterday & today, thinking of how much i’ve been through, how much i’ve learned, and how grateful i am for the journey. the most important thing i’ve ever done is keep going instead of giving up and find ways to practice what has been embedded in my heart for many years.
this looks different for everyone reading. for me, the refuge & the muck and mire of pain and struggle in people’s real lives is where i like to live. but the challenge i pose in down we go and try to keep emphasizing in everything i write here is:
what does the practice of the better look like for each of us?
how can we nurture the practice of the better?
how can we participate in cultivating new ways of living out our faith that reflect freedom, hope, love, and peace outside of unhealthy systems?
i’d love to hear some of your experiences. how you are finding that the “best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better”?