not confusing “dones” with “don’t cares”

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, healing 21 Comments

theres still a lot to care about

I’m definitely slow on blogging these days. Lots of thoughts swirling around in my head and little to no time to sit down and give them a chance to come out. However, I have been having a great time facilitating some Faith Shift Processing Parties in different cities this Winter and Spring. Portland and Nashville so far in January and next up is Seattle and Phoenix, and just added Berkeley at American Baptist Seminary of the West, yeah! If you are in any of those areas and want to come play, here are the details.

One of the best parts for me is getting to meet some people I have known online in real life, hang out with some dear friends, and make new ones, too. To me, there’s nothing better than in-the-flesh!

The stories are all so beautiful and raw and tender and hard and brave.

And one thing I’ve been even more reminded is that there’s an incredible amount of sincerity out there when it comes to faith–so many dedicated, sincere, faithful, true Jesus people who are trying to find their way as their faith shifts, often with little or no support (and a lot of times with a bunch of resistance!).

I keep hearing the same theme weaved throughout different conversations: most everyone isn’t “done” when it comes to faith.

It’s just that they’re “done” when it comes to where they’ve been and not sure what that means for the future.

I think sometimes the “dones” are misperceived. It sounds as if we don’t care anymore or if leaving is a simple solution. The truth is, getting to that point was usually a long, weird, windy road that came with a lot of grief, pain, instability, and loss. While ambivalence and a sense of odd freedom can come at the end of feeling “done” with church-and-faith-as-we-knew-it, it doesn’t mean there’s no sense of caring anymore.

Many just care about different things that a lot of people in church circles aren’t talking about.

I always say, “the world is crying out for hope, while we’re talking about theology” in an effort to remember that so many of our theological conversations seem big to us but are actually not-even-on-the-radar for the majority of the population of the world who are trying to feed their families and make it through the day. In a similar vein, I’d say, “While we’re spinning our wheels talking about who’s in and who’s out and who’s right and who’s wrong, a whole bunch of people have moved on and are creating the kingdom of God in all kinds of beautiful & simple & surprising ways.”

Here are some things that I keep hearing that men and women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and experiences seem to be “done” with:

  • Church services where you sit in pews, look forward, sing some songs, and listen to someone tell you what the Bible says.
  • Passivity in response to injustice.
  • Fighting over the same issues over and over again and never getting anywhere new.
  • “Serving”
  • Church as a place to go.
  • Unhealthy systems that perpetuate dysfunction and misappropriated power.
  • People telling us how and where and when our gifts can be used.
  • Lack of diverse and robust spiritual formation that takes into account practice & senses & experience & a wider view of God’s creativity.
  • Surface conversations.
  • Systems that don’t fully include LBGQT friends and family.
  • Churches that continually disempower women.
  • Controlling leaders.
  • Simple, trite, scripturized answers to complicated questions.
  • “But the Bible says…”
  • Apathy and the church only serving itself.
  • Christian buzzwords that mean nothing in the real world.
  • Homogeneous groups where everyone looks the same, acts the same, believes the same.
  • “Right belief” over practice, law over love.
  • Worshipping the Bible instead of following Jesus.

I’m 100% sure there are so many more, and I’d love to hear what you would add.

Despite so many I know being done with all or some of these, I am also struck by what people do, indeed, seem to care about and are longing for and sometimes desperate to find to no avail.

These are the things it seems like a lot of people I know really care about these days, in no particular order:

  • Equality for all not in words but in action and systemic change.
  • Deep and meaningful community.
  • Diversity and friendship and connection with people across typical divides.
  • Integrating mind and body and soul into our spiritual disciplines.
  • Wrestling with the Bible–or at least staring at it and considering wrestling with it again.
  • Two way relationships where we receive and give as equals.
  • Dignified dialogue in safe spaces.
  • Jesus-centered practices and initiatives that help restore dignity and call out God’s image in others.
  • Discovering renewed images of God.
  • Truly agenda-free friendships.
  • Robust theological conversations where no one’s trying to convince anyone of anything but a place to listen and learn and consider and wonder and be curious.
  • Not knowing all kinds of spiritual things anymore and being okay with that.
  • Living systems.
  • New forms of “church” without the trappings.
  • Paths to rebuild faith after so much of it has unraveled.
  • How to love God, others, ourselves and be loved by God, others, ourselves.

What do you care about still?

I’ve heard all of these in the past few months in some shape or form, and they bring me hope and remind me that I’m not alone in my done-with-what-was and a continued trek toward what-is-and-what-could-be.

I think those are some pretty challenging things worth caring about.

I’m glad so many aren’t done with that.

I know I’m not.

redeeming old words (like “redeem”)

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 36 Comments

transformation is tender

Oh, I’d love to know how many of you cringed when you read the word “redeem”?

It seems like an additional hard part about some of our faith shifts is that particular words we used to love and appreciate have become ones we begin to avoid or cause us to twinge.

For all kinds of reasons, certain words just stop working and just become too loaded.

I recently had to enter into an online site where people were talking in extreme Christianese. I knew enough to brace myself but goodness gracious, I could only watch about 2 minutes! The insider language, the do-we-even-understand-how-weird-we-often-sound-ness was kind of funny.

At the same time, it’s easy for me to point the finger and say “your Christian language is lame” but I also know that even though a lot of how I talk has changed, sometimes my non-Christian-y friends are like, “what in the $(#&!&($@* is she even saying?”

Words do matter. Language is important, and all kinds of feelings & experiences are tied to it.

I am okay with some people not understanding certain things; of course we can’t make every word work for us or for every person in our lives. Yet, I am also sad at how words that are deeply integrated into our faith have been hijacked in all kinds of ways that make many people not want to use them anymore (or feel like we need to explain them if we do).

Here are some words that have bugged me or currently bug me that I’m open redeeming. Of course there are others, but here are a few off the top of my head:

“Church“- Oh, this is such a misperceived full-of-baggage word! “Church” and “God’s people” are often two different things but they weren’t meant to be. This comes up all the time related to The Refuge because we are indeed a church. At the same time, I often hesitate to use it because when people think of church, they think of Sunday mornings, sitting in chairs facing forward, listening to someone talk, singing some songs, etc. The original word in the scriptures–eklessia–had nothing to with a “service” but was centered on “gathering.” My very loose definition of church has helped me hang on to it: People gathered together in some shape or form to learn to love and be loved by God, others, and ourselves. There’s a lot of church going on that doesn’t look like church-as-we-once-knew-it.

“Christian” – I know a lot of people have let go of calling themselves Christians for all kinds of reasons. Some do not consider themselves followers of Jesus any longer but far more still do, but don’t want to be associated with anything tagged with the word “Christian” because of the implications. Our job is to be Christ’s ambassadors, not his policeman, but we’ve often failed. Part of my faith shift has been to still own the word and play whatever part I can in being an ambassador not a policeman.

“Leadership” - Yikes, as I walk through these I realize that each of these words are often extremely loaded. Because of a wide range of truly horrible to truly lame experiences with leadership, many shy away from the word. We don’t want to be leaders or follow leaders. However, I’ll hold that leadership is important and can’t be completely avoid. But we need a different kind of leader–a Beatitude-centered kind, an under-the-radar kind, a cultivator-of-people’s-gifts-and-deep-community kind, a friend-and-equal-in-this-crazy-life kind.

“Salvation” – Over time, I’ve wrestled with what “salvation” and “being saved” means apart from old teachings. For many, salvation was taught to us as solely being saved from spending eternity in hell when we died. The meaning of the word “sozo” in Greek means “to save, deliver, protect, heal, preserve, do well, and be made whole.” I love this thought of healing here & now not just later.

“Repentance” – There are countless bad stories of “repentance” being used against us, but I really love the word because of what it actually means–to turn away from. There are so many things that lure me away from the truth of who I really am. Repentance is about change and transformation and it requires our participation out of hope & desire, not shame & fear.

“Redeem” – It is easy to toss out the word when we shift away from the notions of total depravity and nothing good in us. Yet, I’m keenly aware of my humanity. Despite God’s image embedded in my soul, I also have a lot of brokenness in need of God’s grace and mercy. To me, Jesus’ grace and mercy isn’t the kind that says, “You are absolutely nothing but a miserable wretch apart from me” but the kind that says, “You are something because you are a part of me. Trade your brokenness in for your true belovedness.”

“Blessed” – I can’t quite stomach this one yet outside of the Beatitudes so if someone can help me out with it, I’d love more input. It’s difficult for me to think of “blessed by God” in the same way when so many friends suffer, when certain people have access to medical care and millions others are at risk of contracting a virus and dying, when there’s so much desperation & poverty & pain. The only way I can make sense of it is to shift it toward a sense of gratitude instead. I am grateful for all kinds of things and believe God is always at work, but I’m not sure that God is “blessing” me while ignoring others.

“Lord” – Last one for today and it’s a biggie. When I hear it, I get this weird little knot in my stomach, yet I know it’s about my past not about its meaning. It’s in the scriptures thousands of times and a crucial reality of Jesus. I’m going to keep wrestling with this one this upcoming year because I know there’s something good underneath.

I don’t think these words are going away, but I do think our relationship with them can change; wrestling with them is good.

I’d love to know what these words stir up for you?

What other words are you trying to redeem? 

//

ps: I know some of you are trying to redeem the Bible, too, hoping to re-engage with it in new ways.  My online friend Heather Caliri has a 2015 exercise to engage with it through art and reflection. Here are all the details if you want to join in. 

another blog birthday, the big 7

kathyescobar blog, faith shifts, just because i thought it was fun 7 Comments

7 candle birthday cake

I always consider this blog’s birthday January 1st of every year.  I had written on the Refuge Blog a few years before here, but The Carnival in My Head officially started on January 1st 2008.

How could 7 years have gone by? Seriously, I’m getting old. 

It was interesting today to read my first real post here exactly 7 years ago. It was called when is the time? after watching the movie The Great Debators. My issues with gender inequality and the church were fresh wounds then, that’s for sure. And I can’t help but think how relevant that movie is with the movement for racial equality in 2014 gaining critically important new traction. No question, the time for all forms of equality is now and, thankfully, people are not willing to wait any longer.

It’s always wild reading back on the twists & turns over the years. Every season around this time I re-evaluate blogging and wonder if I should keep going for another year. I toss around dreams of sharing more of the creative stuff we do at The Refuge or hosting more video & blog interviews and creating some better series; however, pulling those into reality is sometimes rough in the midst of real life (and I’m seriously trying not to have unrealistic expectations). For now, I am just planning on keeping this space open in 2015, writing when things come up like I have been, and mixing it up when I can (hoping to bring back Formation Fridays here and there, too. I needed those for myself!).

Meanwhile, I always like to look back on the past year and remember some of the highlights. Here were the top 10 posts of the year, in order, that got the most love, an interesting mix:

1. when mother’s day is hard / This really touched a chord and I think tells us something important to consider since it’s coming back around in a few short months.

2. 5 false things the church often teaches us about healing / I don’t think healing should be a separate part of church but a core part of life together.

3. leaving church to save our souls / The longing for a free-er, more creative & active faith is real.

4. post-traumatic church syndrome is Real (and worthy of a capital letter) / Yes, it sure is & a lot of people are suffering from it.

5. when our christian faith is questioned / It hurts.

6. an evangelical and a progressive walk into a church….  / Oh, it’s tricky to do and only with God’s help is it possible, but we’ve got a find a way to stay together instead of only stick with our own kind.

7. justice is more than equality / We’ll have to participate in creating it.

8. survival of the fittest church / I’d love for this trend to be stopped in its tracks.

9. when father’s day is hard / A month after mother’s day, this day stirs up a lot of hard stuff, too.

10. don’t feed the narcissists / Let me just clarify–abuse needs to be called out, no question, and I am so glad that an empire toppled (and because people are addicted to celebrity, it’s already being rebuilt which makes me feel a little sick).  But I do wish we’d starve them all out.

My 2014 personal favorites:

1. grief week / These stages are part of the rhythms of life in all kinds of ways. I am hoping to do Failure Week in early 2015, finally!

2. new life and non-violent communication. / These charts and tools have been so transforming for me, so hard to apply.

3. I always have fun with the monthly Down We Go column at SheLoves Magazine. Here’s 2014.

4. It was really fun talking about faith shifts & hope for the church with Travis Reed of The Work of the People.  All of those video links are here.

And here are the top 5 posts of all time over the past 7 years (that was fun to peek at):

1. ex-good-christian-women / Here’s to ongoing freedom…

2. please, let’s get outraged over more important things / Yeah, I wish we’d get as riled up about poverty & pain & inequality in this world as we do about TV shows & celebrities.

3. a nifty chart for the journey: stages in the life of faith  / I will always love this book by Janet Hagberg & Robert Guelich; this chart is a summary.

4. when mother’s day is hard / This year’s post made the top all-time, wild.

5. rebuilding after deconstructing / This series was the genesis of Faith Shift and I am so grateful for all of the comments & perspectives over time.

My still-all-time blog favorite over the past 7 years was from 2012:  well behaved women won’t change the church.  Here’s to misbehaving.

And since going to the movies is one of my favorite spiritual disciplines and I always forget to write about them here, my favorite of 2014 were:

1. Begin Again

2. The Imitation Game

3. Boyhood

4. Whiplash

5. The Theory of Everything

What were yours?

Lastly, because I always like to get book recommendations (bring them on), here are some books I definitely enjoyed reading in 2014 (3 fiction & 3 nonfiction):

The Invention of Wings / Sue Monk Kidd

The Goldfinch / Donna Tartt

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats / Jan Philipp-Sendker

Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel / Elias Chacour

The Empathy Exams: Essays / Leslie Jamison

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace / Anne Lamott

If you like to spend a little time thinking about the past year and considering the one ahead, here’s a template I always share if you want to download. Use whatever works for you:

Goodbye 2014 & Happy Birthday, little blog. Looking forward to 2015.

Thanks for being part of this space! I am so grateful.

peace & hope for the new year, kathy

“i’ll start my diet monday” and other unrealistic expectations.

kathyescobar healing, spiritual formation 8 Comments

more grace less mean

There’s a joke in my family that when I die my headstone is going to read “Kathy ‘I’ll Start My Diet Monday’ Escobar”. It’s true, I can’t tell you how many weeks I have said, “Okay, just a few more days of eating crap and not working out because I’ll start my diet Monday.” And Monday morning I wake up and drink 2 glasses of water and make eggs instead of cereal and swear that i won’t have another carb all day but by dinnertime I’ve already eaten two handfuls of chips and three cookies and somehow never made it to the gym and start to remember all the events and parties I have this week and how there’s no way I can stick to my plan. So I tell myself, “That’s okay, you can start again next Monday.”

The bottom line for me is that I have really, really unrealistic expectations. It manifests itself in all kinds of ways in my life. I think I can drive somewhere in 20 minutes when it actually takes 30 to get there. I think I can cram in 4 meetings in a day instead of 3 because I will leave a little early (yeah, I always end up leaving late). I think I can get a project done in an hour that ends up taking 3. It’s a problem I have been working on for years now and I wish I could say I have made a lot of progress.

I haven’t.

The one positive, though, is that now I am at least aware of it and can laugh at myself & realize the crazy. Before, I would be in total denial about it.

But why keep doing it?

Why keep repeating the cycle of insanity?

I could analyze it all until I’m blue in the face but I think the bottom line is this: I want to be able to do more than I can.

I want to be better than I am.

I want to have more self-control than I do.

I expect myself to pull off what I really can’t.

And in the end, all of the craziness usually just results in more craziness that never, ever leads to a better place.

I know that some of you reading will say “well, just stop doing that.” (think Bob Newhart, on of my all-time favorite clips)

If only those two words were easy to do.

My take is that my struggle is just a human one. We are bombarded with so many different messages from all kinds of angles that tell us that change is up to us. That if we just __________’d enough, we will get to a new place.

I don’t disagree that there are some really important spiritual and physical disciplines that can, indeed, move us to new spaces & places in our lives.

The problem is that change is usually so much slower than we’d like.

That it takes much more than a new year but actually new year after new year after new year.

That even though sometimes drastic measures are necessary, in the end real transformation comes from small intentions over a long period of time.

That we expect the road to be straight and easy and linear when it’s usually looks more like a roller coaster ride.

That what works for one person sometimes doesn’t work for another.

That being hard on ourselves and heaping shame for all our unreached goals usually doesn’t help.

That grace is easy to talk about and hard to embrace.

This post isn’t really just about New Years resolutions; I know a lot of you swore those off a long time ago (but I wonder how even if we say we don’t make them that the crazy list of stuff-we-want-to-commit-to have crossed our minds still?).

But just like the fleeting thoughts that come barging in during Centering Prayer, I am trying to gently send them on their way down the river so I can focus on what I need to really focus on–letting go of unrealistic expectations and just enjoying the present.

Being instead of doing.

Here’s my hope for those of us who know that “I’ll start my diet Monday” will never work this new year: I wonder what it would be like if we could be a little less hard on ourselves, more gentle.

A little more realistic, a little less living in denial. A little more graceful & a little less harsh. A little more silly & a little less critical.

A little more being and a lot less doing.

A lot more grace, a lot less mean. 

I love this quote from Anne Lamott a  friend shared this morning:

“This is what grace looks like: amazed gratitude and relief at your plain old gorgeous life. A willingness not to be good at things right away, to be clueless but committed; to make more messes and mistakes in the interest of living with spaciousness and a sense of presence; to find out who we truly are, who we were born to be, and to learn to love that screwed up, disappointing, heartbreakingly dear self of ours.” 

So that’s my hope & prayer for this year.

And no, I am not planning on starting my diet Monday (but it did cross my mind).

//

ps: This picture is from a crazy last-minute-see-if-there-are-any-seats-on-standby trip we took for new years eve to Hawaii, one of the amazing perks of being married to an airline pilot. It was the perfect way to end 2014 and start 2015.

outsiders.

kathyescobar advent & lent, church stuff, down we go, ex good christian women, faith shifts, jesus is cool 32 Comments

david hayward important people

One of the things that has been the hardest about shifting faith is moving from being an “insider” to an “outsider.” I have always been one of those people who looks like an insider, like someone who fits in. The truth is that underneath a lot of that has been a prevailing feeling that somehow, I just really don’t.

The more I’ve talked to people of the years, the more clear I am that we can be lonely in a group or as part of the crowd. We can look like we are more confident and connected than we really are. We can pull of a sense of being part of something without actually ever feeling like we truly “belong.”

And belonging is a really strong and important need for most of us.

I know it is for me. To feel like we have a place. To feel like we are part of something important. To have meaningful relationships that connect us to a bigger story.

And sometimes we equate belonging to feeling like an insider.

In the early stages of my faith, one of the biggest draws for me was becoming part of a family, a group, a place to belong. There was something about Christian connection that I loved. The homogeneity, the similar passion and focus in the same direction, the clear set of here’s-what-you-listen-to-read-believe-and-do. I loved the certainty, the conformity, the affiliation.

At the same time, I’ll admit that as much as I tried to be an insider, I always sort of felt like an outsider.

Like I somehow didn’t know the Bible as well as everyone else. That I didn’t sound quite as spiritual as everyone else. That I missed certain memos about what I needed to say or do as a good Christian woman.

But I certainly tried. Oh, how I tried! I worked incredibly hard not to feel like an outsider, to find a place, to find a way to truly belong.

I’d come close here and there, but that feeling of being totally “in” only came in one small wave during the two years I worked on a mega-church staff. There was something about being part of that team, that mission, that energy, that swept me away and I finally felt a feeling that had eluded me until then.

The hardest part is that it was just a feeling, not fact.

I let myself believe something that wasn’t true but that I deeply wanted to be.

The reality was that as soon as I started rocking the boat, I immediately became an outsider. And not just pushed to the fringe, but all the way out. Systems can be that way. They are powerful structures that shape human behavior and can be used for good or for not-so-good (and sometimes even evil).

One of the trickiest parts of my faith shift is that I didn’t just become an outsider of that particular church, but I became an outsider in the strain of faith that I had tried so hard to be part of for so long.

And being an outsider is tough.

It’s lonely.

It’s disorienting.

It’s confusing.

I am one of those people that no longer fits into one particular world. I am a post-evangelical-mutt and while I’m grateful for it, it is hard to never all the way fit in anywhere.

And I’ll admit–it still can be lonely & weird & confusing sometimes.

I just don’t fit into any group anymore.

I can’t align with anything all-the-way like I used to.

I can’t compromise my integrity in order to be part.

I can’t be something I’m not.

But here’s what I also know–most all of us feel like outsiders in all kinds of different ways, too.

We are in good company.

And that’s why I love the weird & wild & doesn’t-make-sense Christmas Story so much. The upside-down ways of Jesus remind us that trying to align with the world’s power, a group’s power, a religion’s power, will not help us. It will try to draw us in and allure us. It will try to tempt us to strive and try and do-things-we-really-aren’t-that-in-to in order to belong. It will try to make us work to feel important.

A few weeks ago I stumbled on the above David Hayward Christmas cartoon (and bought one, too!)

The important people weren’t there. The insiders weren’t there.

The outsiders were.

I’m not saying insiders miss God. I can’t evaluate that. But I’m saying that so often when we’re trying to “get inside” or “maintain our position inside” that we miss so much good right in front of us.

And we stay insecure, always striving to be this-or-that or believe-this-or-that or do-this-or-that in order to be part (no matter what that part is–church systems, non-faith-based groups, jobs, and more).

I have a feeling there are a lot of us who feel like outsiders this Christmas. Some embrace it with ease and feel comfortable with it. Others struggle with the feeling and long to feel “inside” of something again.

There are no easy answers, but I have come to believe this: “inside” and “important” are overrated and never seem to lead to true and lasting life.

//

Peace to you this Christmas week. I know some will relish every day this week while others are counting the days until it’s over. My kids are all home and so we will be seeing a lot of movies & taking some much-needed time off. Back sometime next week with the annual end-of-year wrap. It’s definitely been a wild one!

peace and hope, kathy