affiliation, certainty & conformity to freedom, diversity & mystery

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts 20 Comments

every day people are straying away from church

i am in the thick of it writing the first manuscript of faith shift: hope for spiritual refugees, church burnouts and freedom seekers. i’ve had all 5 kids at home, all kinds of never-ending refuge craziness, on top of may being the busiest month of the year. of course i waste time i don’t have asking myself “what in the %(#&@%!^!!^ was i thinking, saying yes to this project?!?”

but it’s too late now, and as i much as i like to complain, it is fun pulling it all together. and just when i think it doesn’t matter, i get an email or have a conversation in real life where i am reminded how many of us are in the midst–or on the other side–of a radical faith shift and how crazy &  lonely & freaky it can feel.

when it’s all said and done, faith shifting involves a huge amount of grief. we lose so much, all kinds of things that seemed to hold us together for so long. what was once crystal clear becomes muddy.  what felt comfortable now feels foreign. what worked, now doesn’t.

i believe that one of the central parts of a faith shift is moving away from the core values of affiliation, certainty, and conformity that are embedded into much of contemporary christianity and moving toward a faith that values freedom, diversity, and mystery.

it’s crazy to me that this process is often perceived as radical or sinful or rebellious, but we can’t escape the fact that most of our traditional church systems–especially conservative or fundamentalist ones–are built firmly and solidly upon the core values of affiliation, certainty, and conformity.  they keep a lot of wheels spinning round; they are reliable, clear, predictable and make groups work.

here’s the short version of what they mean to me:

affiliation –  a sense of being part of a team or club or something bigger than us.  if you’re like me, it felt awesome to be adopted into a new “family” in the early years of my faith and i related to the feeling of being connected to other christians not only in my church but in the wider world, too.  knowing which team we’re on is powerful.

certainty – black and white, right or wrong, good or bad, strong or weak, godly or ungodly.  much of life before a faith shift is built on certainty about what God means, feels, thinks, expects.  part of our certainty includes helping other people be clear on what’s right and wrong, too.

conformity – groups have norms and behaviors that we as humans have a natural aptitude for adapting to. we learn what it takes to be part and we do it.  we learn by watching and joining in.  some of it is conscious and some of it is far more unconscious, building on our desire to somehow belong.

as i look at these three values of my early faith it’s easy to dismiss them as all bad. while i now disagree with many  methodologies behind them, i respect that part of healing and moving forward to new places requires making peace with the past.

affiliation, certainty, and conformity used to be big deals to me. they meant everything. they guided the way i thought, talked, behaved, and connected with God.

then they stopped working.  they outlasted their usefulness. they no longer resonate.  i won’t do anything to be part, my certainty faded away years ago, and any demands for conformity make me into a crazy person.

i’m trying not to look back with disdain but instead embrace my deep desire to keep walking toward three compelling & worth-pursuing values on the other side of a faith shift–freedom, diversity, and mystery.

freedom – instead of people pleasing and doing what everything we can do to conform to be part of the group, freedom is  finding our voice and passion and feeling free to lead, grow, learn, experience, practice, try without asking for permission.  freedom also helps us let go of trying to control or convince others and accept people just as they are (and ourselves, too). it’s a deep and strong security in who we are apart from a group or label.

diversity – homogeneous groups make me nuts now.  once you’ve tasted diversity and are around a wide range of beliefs, theologies, and life experiences, we can never go back. living in the tension of diversity and what it means to love each other despite our differences is so glorious (and way harder, too!)

mystery – embracing a bigger God that surpasses what we can get our head around, “i don’t know’s”, and far more expansive ways to connect with God beyond only the Bible. some people are really scared of this word, but those who have unraveled certainty value the magnetic beauty of mystery and the healing, hope, and challenge it brings.

freedom, diversity, and mystery do not need to be feared.

and we don’t necessarily have to leave church completely to find them (although i respect sometimes it’s necessary); we just might have to leave “church-as-we-knew-it” and find some new forms that we would have never before considered as a possibility.

many systems fear freedom, diversity, and mystery because they cannot be controlled or contained. affiliation, certainty, and conformity are fairly easy tasks and create a uniformity that is far simpler to manage. letting faith out of the box and giving people freedom jacks with an industry and man’s ability to manage God for other people.

but when i read the gospels, i can’t see how affiliation, certainty & conformity in the ways we’ve made them out to be was what Jesus had in mind.

yeah, we long for freedom, diversity, and mystery for a good reason–it’s far more consistent with “faith.”

peace, hope and courage to us all as we slowly & bravely move from affiliation, certainty & conformity to freedom, diversity & mystery. it’s a bumpy, beautiful, often terrifying path but so worth it because it all points toward love.