why i still love the church.

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, faith shifts, incarnational 13 Comments

people God gathering

Yes, I call out unhealthy church systems all the time.

Yes, I rant and rave about equality.

Yes, I believe sometimes people need to leave church-as-they-knew-it to save their souls.

Yes, I am deeply disturbed by how power and control has hurt so many.

But I also still do love the “church.”

I believe in what it’s supposed to be.

I believe in its power.

I believe in its possibility.

I believe in its purpose.

Remember, though, I have a very loose definition of church. I say it all different ways:

The longer version: People gathered together in some way, shape or form to learn & practice the ways of Jesus and pass on love, hope, mercy, justice, and healing in a broken, weird world.

The short version: Pockets of people learning to love God, others, and ourselves & be loved by God, others, ourselves.

Church is so creative. Formal, informal, big, small, conversational, liturgical, in bars, in recovery meetings, in parks, in buildings, in houses, in sweet-space-next-to-food-banks, in coffee shops, in trailer parks, at dinner tables, at campfires.

However, there are a few constant key ingredients: people, God, and gathering.

And here’s what’s beautiful–there are all kinds of people, and all kinds of ways to intersect with God, and all kinds of ways to gather.

My sadness is that the church has become systemized and not spirit-ized. It’s supposed to be the best reflection on earth of heaven–oozing equality & justice & hope & authenticity & healing. But instead, it’s so often filled with hierarchy & control & power & hiding. It’s often stuck in the rut of certainty, conformity & affiliation instead of releasing people as they grow into a maturing faith of freedom, mystery & diversity. It’s often tame, controlled, manageable, domesticated.

That’s really never what it was supposed to be.

But, like humans from the beginning of time, we have always tried to shape things into what worked for us and kept us safe & protected.

I think Jesus turned all that upside down and like so many religious leaders and followers then, we still don’t like the message because it calls us to discomfort. It calls us to break down the walls between us & them. It calls us to clean our own cups first. It calls us to leave religion and find faith. It calls us to mercy. It calls us to practice.

Most of all, it calls us to relationship–with God, with others, with ourselves.

There are so many amazing things that happen through relationship with people when we gather in some way, shape or form to learn & practice together.

When we create little pockets of love and freedom in all kinds of unique ways.

To me, there are things that can’t happen in my life in my house all by myself. Left on my own, look out. I implode. I cave in. My eyeballs turn in and the only thing I can see is myself, myself, myself.

That’s why I still love church.

It helps me to connect with the beauty & hope of humanity. To look in eyes and share hearts. To reckon with my pride, my self-protection, my fears. To receive and not just give. To remember I’m not God even though I try to act like I am. To uncover the rubble in my own life and help remove some in my friends’ too. To practice friendship.  To participate with God to create little slivers & tastes of heaven here on earth.

Church–my life with people-who-don’t-have-to-be-with-me-but-choose-to-anyway–forces me to grow, heal, become more whole.

I don’t believe in going to church. Those days are so over for me.

But I do believe in being the church with other people who are growing, healing, becoming more whole, too.

And there are so many creative, wild, beautiful, unexpected, simple, amazing ways that is possible.

A new pastor friend in Denver shared the most soul-stirring sermon I have heard in a long time, centered on church and the state of Christianity. Please, read it. It rocks! It made me cry because sometimes I get so confused on what I feel about church and faith shifts and all of the ways I’ve changed over the years. I hear the voices of people who have criticized me along the way, telling me I was leading people astray or that the slippery slope was too dangerous.

I won’t restate everything in the sermon because it’s worth reading on your own, but the essence I gleaned is that we can trust God with the future of the church & Christianity.  He’s not proposing to take it lightly, but to hold it lightly…“to cling to it less, to let it go from the grasp of our certainties, to free it from our obsessive focus and our faithless worry that if we don’t protect it, preserve it, reinvent it, spruce it up, perpetuate it, it will somehow just disappear and we will have failed.”

That, like Moses’ mother putting him in a basket and sending him down the river not knowing where he’d end up, that we can trust the wild and crazy ways of God to supersede our biblical interpretations and our tendencies to manage and make-sense-of-things-in-a-way-that’s-comfortable. That Christ-alive is bigger and more powerful and more prevailing than our man-made constructs. That “church” will survive because the Holy Spirit isn’t going anywhere and will keep working in people’s lives instilling courage & love & hope. That the Jesus-infused call of justice & mercy will always inspire people to tangible love & care in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

That we’ve got a big creative God who’s with it no matter what.

Yes, I still love the “church.”

And I always love seeing it set free.

tender faith stories, handle with care.

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 7 Comments

our faith stories are tender

Can you say “vulnerability hangover?” Brene Brown talks about them and at The Refuge we joke about them, and let me just tell you–I have a big fat one right now.

When I first saw the clip online from my conversation on The Work of the People, I could feel it in my stomach. That knot, that uh-oh feeling, that oh-my-goodness-what-have-I-done-by-sharing-so-much-so-publicly about one of the most tender places in my life, my faith? It’s scary enough to put it in print, but there’s something even more raw about it coming directly out of my mouth and heart directly, in real life, to whoever hits “Play.”

It stirred up a lot of thoughts & feelings, but the primary things rattling around in my head seemed to be along the lines of:

What will ____ and ______ and ______ think of me now?

How can I still be a pastor?

What in the $(#&!^!^ was I thinking? 

Then I take a breath and remember–it’s just the truth.

It’s just my truth.

It’s just my story.

And really, telling it is a strange but good spiritual practice–it heals, it reveals, it transforms, it stretches.  For me, it draws me closer to God in all kinds of simple & sweet & kind-of-weird ways.

But more than just me-feeling-all-exposed, I have been struck with a really important reminder this week, something I “know” but can easily forget–our faith stories are one of the most tender, vulnerable parts about us.

When we talk about our faith journey, we’re talking about our souls.

The depths of our hearts.

Core parts of our identity.

Places that are tender & fragile & raw & sincere and really hard to put words to.

I know why people are hesitant to share the truth of what they’re struggling with related to faith out loud.

There are so few spaces and places to put it out there without being met with blank stares or scripturizing or fixing or advice or “i’ll-pray-for-you’s” or”you’re-in-danger’s.”

Yeah, sharing our faith stories is incredibly vulnerable.

Many people don’t understand, often in our closest circles–family, friends, leaders.

Every time we gain the courage to share what’s going on inside of us related to faith and put it out on the table, we are taking a risk.  

We risk losing respect, positions, trust, connection, church, jobs, and a long-list-of-other-things that looks different for each of our unique circumstances.

I have had some friends tell me that they have been nervous to even share about the release of Faith Shift on their Facebook walls because they knew it would expose some of their journey to friends-of-a-more-conservative-persuasion and they might lose friends or have to explain themselves in a way they weren’t up for.

It’s easy to say, “just own your story and move on” and I do believe that’s ultimately true. But when you’re on the edges of it, when there’s a lot on the line, when we’re not-really-sure-which-way-the-conversation-could-go, when we’re tired & fragile & aren’t ready to defend ourselves, it’s much more complicated than that.

That’s all I really wanted to say today.

Our faith stories are so beautiful, so brave, so tender. 

If you’re hearing one–please handle it with care. Listen well. Honor it, respect it, and don’t try to fix a thing.

If you’re trying to share one–just know you’re in good company in the tenderness and you’re really, really brave. It takes a lot of guts to be spiritually honest, to share our true struggles, doubts, questions, and transforming theologies despite the potential fallout. Some people might not be able to handle it, but I truly believe God and some other safe people can.

I love another thing Brene Brown says, too: “Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.”

Our faith stories are unfolding, evolving, ever-changing.  Where we are today is maybe not where we’ll be in 3 months or 6 months or a year.  We can’t wait until they’re all figured out until we share them out loud–because they’ll never be figured all the way out.

No matter where we’re at, it’s our tender, fragile, beautiful, strong, messy, unique, holy story.

Let’s keep handling them with care.  

Thank you for taking good care of mine; I’m really grateful.

Have a great weekend.

peace, kathy


ps: two other quick things to share that are out there this week related to Faith Shift:

  • I wrote a post for On Faith called 4 Reasons It’s Okay to Lose Faith. Yeah, losing faith doesn’t have to mean losing it all.
  • I also was in an online livestream conversation for Convergent Book’s new Make Room series about Re-thinking Church with some other pastors & friends. The audio was jacked up at the beginning and I dropped off several times (right before the question on vulnerability & church, too, ha ha) but lots of interesting, challenging, and hopeful perspectives about church.

it’s here!

kathyescobar faith shifts 14 Comments

Ecologist Mural Painting on Wall

Yes, finally! Whew!  After months and months of forming the project, gathering stories, writing, editing, re-editing, and production, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Part is out!  It’s a messy & surreal process, especially on top of a lot of kids & the refuge & our crazy life.

But I am so excited that basically all of the stuff that I’ve been writing about for the past chunk of years is now in one place, in order–with a lot better editing and capital letters! (and, best of all, real stories from a bunch of my amazing and brave friends).

I can’t begin to tell you all how grateful I am for the stories, emails,  comments, and messages over these past years that have reminded me that I’m not crazy, and I’m not alone, and that faith shifts are oh-so-real. It’s been so healing in more ways than I can count. My hope for this book is that it can help others find their way through the scary, weird, messy, beautiful process of life after an unraveled faith.

I won’t go on and on about the book in this moment; now you can get a copy for yourself online or you can take a peek inside.  But I will share a few quick things this morning about it:

  • It’s written for spiritual refugees, church burnouts and freedom seekers. It’s definitely not for everyone. It’s for people who have experienced a significant shift in their faith and feel lost and tired and lonely in the process. It’s for people who know some of these feelings or experiences.
  • It’s meant to be interactive. It’s not a read-my-words and breeze to the next chapter kind of book. It’s to participate in, with questions and thoughts to consider, and ways to engage with it related to our own unique faith stories.  There are questions for personal or group reflection at the end of each chapter, too.
  • I really hope you will share what it stirs up in you, either on the blog or in messages. I have a new link on the Faith Shift tab specifically for responses to the material and to share your own experiences and ways you’d maybe illustrate your faith evolution or different words you might use to describe your journey. I’d love to hear more, and that’s another place to share where everything’s in one place.
  • None of this would be possible without you. Your stories, your honesty, your courage here on the blog and in real life is really what Faith Shift is all about. I am so grateful!  There have been others that have gone before us and others who will come after us, and that’s why sharing our stories–the good, the bad, the ugly–matters.

A few other things floating around related to Faith Shift this week:

A me-rambling-about-faith-shifts video / If you want to hear a little live snippet with my friend Travis Reed of the Work of the People, here’s a little video, part 1 of a fun (no way to be around Travis and not have it be fun) conversation we had together last month when I was in Texas.

A blog post / I have written a few pieces for the Convergent blog related to some of the ideas in the book. I already shared about the first one here–You Know Your Faith is Shifting When–and the second one came out last week–When our Faith Unravels, We Lose a Lot.

A livestream conversation about re-thinking church / It’s not directly related to the book, but for me, creating a space that can hold these shifts in tension is so important.  All of the details are here.  It’s on Thursday October 23rd at noon Mountain Time.

Coming soon:

The thing I’m most excited to do with Faith Shift is create little pockets of people who want to process it together live. Not a book-reading, but a really-engaging-with-the-material-together kind of gathering (always my favorite).  Some friends in some different cities are organizing a few spaces & places for this in early 2015 and will keep you posted when and where (November 13th will be the first one in Colorado Springs).

Most of all, I’d love to hear what your thoughts about it! Please, share with me. You will see things differently, you will have things to add, you will find yourselves in the stories.  The best part is hearing from you!

Have a great day. I know mine will be definitely filled with smiles and gratitude…

peace, kathy

when we’re spiritually hangry.

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, just because i thought it was fun, spiritual formation 9 Comments


When I was last visiting my daughter in New York she started getting cranky because we hadn’t eaten and been walking all over town forever. She said, “Mommmmm, Feed me! I’m getting hangry!”

I get angry sometimes, too, when I’m hungry.

It’s that desperate feeling like I better get some food now before I go off the deep end. My husband, Jose, thinks it’s kind of funny but the truth is funny is not the word I would use to describe it in the moment.

This past Sunday night at The Refuge we processed some of the core ideas from Faith Shift together at our service. A dear friend texted me afterward that she loved the conversation and realized how she was “spiritually hangry.” It made me laugh out loud.

It is such a great description for so many of us!

When it comes to faith shifts and losses in our spiritual journey, we are definitely hangry.

We’re often angry and hungry at the same time.

Sometimes the anger is directed toward the church. We’ve been hurt by systems that we gave our heart to and don’t want anything to do with it. Leaders betrayed us. The places that once fostered a sense of belonging and connection now feel lonely and empty.

Other times, our anger is directed toward God. Where in the $(&@&!! is God in our shifting faith? Why can’t we hear him, feel him, experience him anymore? Why does God let such crazy stuff happen in his name?

And then often we’re mad at ourselves. Why did we leave church? Why did we stay? How did we check some of our logic at the door? How did we lose so much of ourselves in order to belong?

When I’m mad at people or things, the last thing I want to do is move toward them. In those moments, I want to harden my heart, build my case, steel myself, protect myself, do absolutely-anything-i-can-to-not-let-myself-get-hurt-again.

But what happens when at the same time we’re angry about some of the things that have happened to us spiritually that we’re also hungry?

When we long for spiritual connection with God again.

When our souls feel dry and we don’t know how to find water.

When we’re tired of what my friend Stacy calls “spiritual anorexia” where we’re withering away spiritually but can’t find any nourishing food to eat.

What happens when we’re spiritually hangry?

What are our options?

Oh, this is always the part where it would be so much easier if there were a list of 10 sure ways to satisfy our spiritual h-anger or a magic pill we could take that could easily transition us out of a season of spiritual desert after a long season of our faith unraveling.

But alas, it never seems to work that way.

It does seem, though, that there are some possibilities to consider to help us with our spiritual hangriness:

It’s always so good to process some of our anger. It’s not a sin. It’s real. It’s human. It can be a propelling emotion. It also is a big part of grief, which is a core element of a lot of our faith shifts. Some of these posts about anger can help vent a little, but really, anything we can do to allow honesty helps. It’s also good to remember we don’t have to get all of our anger issues squared away before we can re-connect with God. That another good part of paradox–we can be angry at and hungry for God at the same time.

Find something, anything, that works to get some spiritual food. To me, anything that brings hope, light, joy, love, peace is a signal it’s the right direction. Sometimes we think certain kinds of food are more “spiritual” than others (the Bible, church, etc.) when really, if we break down the lines between the sacred and the secular we can find God in all kinds of surprising places–art, music, nature, friendship, quiet, creative endeavors, helping others, and more. Contrary to what we may have been taught, it can be enough; noticing this as satisfying food instead of dismissing it as a snack can be really helpful.

Grieve the loss of inspiration addiction because it’s probably not coming back. I personally think one of the reasons we get so hangry is that if we came from a certain kind of evangelical/charismatic background, we are used to a certain kind of spiritual high. When our faith deconstructs, we at first are glad to shed it. The problem is that once it’s gone, we don’t know what we’re exactly looking for when it comes to new spiritual connection. Is it supposed to feel like that again in a different way? Or is it completely new? For me, spiritual connection has radically changed. The high has never even come close to returning. I have moments where things are stirred in my heart and soul that touch me in a deep way, but it is often so subtle, more a still, small voice that is sometimes tricky to hear.

Experiment. While finding what works helps, another thing can be open to trying new and interesting things you’ve never “eaten” before. Meet with a spiritual director, try a radically different kind of church experience or faith tradition, read a spiritual book that is out of our comfort zone, try something that feels foreign and see what happens. These experiments can help us feel less angry, more open, and can even bring some fun into it (part of the problem, too, is we are good at taking our faith seriously but not so good at playing with it). What if we engaged in some of these things with a lightness, a willingness to laugh with God at what we are learning and experiencing?

How do you identify with being spiritually hangry?

Anything that is helping meet your spiritual hangriness right now? It always helps to hear ideas from others.

busy blog.

kathyescobar blog, healing, incarnational, spiritual formation Leave a Comment


Sometimes I don’t blog much here, but I’ve got other posts floating around in various places. I usually always write them at totally different times but then they all hit at the same time, which is kind of weird.  This past week was one of those weeks!

Here are some posts out and about that you might want to check out because they are part of other interesting things worth knowing about:

  • Christine Sine has an awesome blog and is one of my most favorite liturgists & spiritual guides. She creates all kinds of lovely resources for Advent & Lent and hosts blog series on different spiritual formation topics here and there. This month she’s got a series centered on spiritual direction and faith shifts. Some of you have already seen a modified version of this post before, but when she asked me to contribute, I knew exactly which one i wanted to share–the role of Spiritual Midwives in our faith journey.
  • Lastly, every month I write a little Down We Go column for Sheloves Magazine. I really enjoy being part of that team from afar. There is so much great content over there if you haven’t seen it before. This month’s theme was “Listen” & my post is called “Thank You for Sharing.” There are all kinds of other posts coming this month centered on the art of listening.

Have a great rest-of-your-weekend!  See you later this week here.  9 days until Faith Shift releases. So excited!

peace, kathy