we have a dream.

kathyescobar dreams, equality, incarnational, injustice, synchroblog 17 Comments

we have a dream

This month’s Synchroblog is centered on Race, Violence, and Why We Need to Talk About It. There’s a link list at the bottom of this post of some other bloggers also writing today. If I were going to recommend one post to read on this subject, read I Need to Say Something Entirely Different to White People on a Deeper Story. When I was thinking of what to write, this is what came to mind. I know the road ahead is long and hard and painful, but I hope we can be part of making some of these dreams come true.


“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow…” (MLK) we still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the dream of God for all his creation.

We have a dream that one day the children of God will rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed: “Love our neighbor as ourselves” and that there would be no us and them, but only us.

We have a dream that we’d trade our guns and knives and swords and stones and words-as-weapons for tools of peace and listening and presence and humility.

We have a dream that one day on the streets of every Midwestern town, we will not see a sea of white or a sea of black, but a rising powerful wave of every color mixed and weaved together, moving on behalf of hope.

We have a dream that tables in every cafe and restaurant and pub and university and library and church and school cafeteria would be filled with people of all colors side by side, eye to eye, face to face, eating together, laughing together, listening together, living together.

We have a dream that even on Sunday mornings, still one of the most segregated day of the week, that we’d bravely and intentionally leave the church of our comfort and walk through the doors of our brothers’ and sisters’ communities and join in learning and listening instead of teaching and talking.

We have a dream that hardened hearts would be softened and stiff necks would be loosened, and knees everywhere would be bowed in humility toward God, confessing the ways we have participated in injustice and oppression and in hate and division and racism.

We have a dream that voices that have been silenced for generations begin to rise up in a strong chorus that stirs our souls and moves our feet.

We have a dream that the false power of this world would be replaced with the true power of the Kingdom, where the last will be first and the first will be last, where the low will be lifted up and the high will be humbled, where there is no over or under but only alongside.

We have a dream that we would raise up an army of peacemakers across all generations and shapes and sizes and theologies and politics who are dedicated to creating spaces and places of healing and reconciliation and hope and collective action.

We have a dream that God would wake those who are sleeping, rousing us from their ignorance and indifference, and move our hearts to action.

We have a dream that what was meant for evil could be redeemed and that even the darkest ugliest pockets of injustice could be transformed into an “oasis of freedom” and hope.

We have a dream today, not for tomorrow or “once we’re more ready” or “once the time is right” or “once things aren’t so tense.”

We have a dream that we won’t keep waiting for our dreams to drop out of the sky but that the wild and beautiful and creative spirit of God would move through us here, now, to bring heaven to earth.

A dream that we could live in a land where full equality wasn’t a dream but a reality, a practice, a way of life, evidence of Jesus-at-work-here-and-now.

Yes, we “have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; ‘and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together'” (MLK).

God, give us courage and wisdom and endurance and hope to participate in making this dream come true.


Check out these other bloggers writing about this, too:


women, men & church: what hurts, what helps

kathyescobar church stuff, co-pastoring, equality, ex good christian women, leadership, women in ministry 14 Comments

cocreators of wholeness and hope

Two fridays ago The Refuge hosted our first “Beyond Seminary: Moving Theology into Practice” gathering. Our amazing friend and seminary professor Dr. Deborah Loyd facilitated and we were challenged, encouraged, inspired in all kinds of ways.

There were 25 of us there, 21 women and 4 men. Yep. That was a little hard for me but probably tells the real story. Oh, we have to figure out how to get these conversations more balanced! Real, lasting change will happen when both genders are equally committed to learning and change together. I am so grateful for the amazing men that were indeed there and do know some other male leaders who wanted to come but couldn’t make it. They embody the humility, honesty, and willingness-to-engage that is what the church desperately needs.

Deborah started with a solid foundation of the reality that our theology on gender in the church has been built on biblical interpretation through the eyes of patriarchy and seeing what we want to see as opposed to the bigger story of what’s really there. Then, we quickly moved into reality:

What is really happening in our real life experiences related to gender equality in the church?

What disempowers?

What are some best practices to move toward change?

I thought I’d just share a brief summary of what we came up with in these two major categories–what hurts, what helps. What disempowers, what empowers. What continues the deep divide between genders in the church, what heals it. 

Here’s what hurts and disempowers women (and ultimately men, too) in the church:

  • When women aren’t part of the decision-making, power bodies of the church (pastoral leadership, elder teams, guiding teams).
  • When men are seen as employees and are paid properly and women are seen as volunteers and expected to work for free.
  • When women’s contributions and faithful input aren’t acknowledged (so many behind-the-scenes things happen by women in the church but are often unthanked or women’s contributions aren’t valued as highly–men are seen as the ones who “make the plans” and women are the ones who “execute them.”)
  • The media messages about women, how we should look, think, act. (I’d add the messages about what it means to be a “good Christian woman” (or man) that is solidified through so many of the books, blog, bible studies available at Christian book stores).
  • Stereotypical retreats and the same-old-same-old men’s & women’s groups –men do certain things at their retreats and groups and women do others.
  • When boards and conference line-ups don’t reflect equality at all and are very imbalanced. Most are still mainly men with a few women sprinkled in.
  • A scarcity mentality among women–that there are only so many places at the table so we had better fight to keep our spot. This can create a competitiveness that is really sad and limiting.
  • When women are not given the titles of “pastor” when that’s what they are really doing.
  • Comments about our looks and gender (Oh, do I have some crazy stories about that!)
  • Many sermon examples, scriptures, stories, quotes tend to be male-focused.

What else disempowers?

It’s really easy to get stuck there, and even as I read these brainstorms through again, I had that icky-and-hopeless feeling creep in. These things are so engrained into our church systems that it is going to be hard work to shift it to a more healthy, balanced place. With the bad theology and generations of patriarchy embedded deeply into our psyche and practices, it won’t be an easy shift.

However, change is happening. And can happen. We will just have to intentionally apply ourselves to some new practices, men and women together.

Here are some tangible and practical “best practices” that can help us move toward greater equality in the church:

  • Friendship. This is a core practice that opens doors to equality. We’ve got to find ways to practice being true friends together.
  • Be intentional about inviting, including, empowering, and releasing women into all levels of leadership. It won’t drop out of the sky so needs to be clear and strong message–“we need you, we want you, and here’s how we can make this happen.
  • Pay properly and equally. Period. Figure it out.
  • Avoid gender-biased comments (on both sides) about looks, athleticism, feelings, and other stereotypical ways of viewing both sexes.
  • Create intentional and brave conversations about gender in our communities–places to share, evaluate, process, adopt new practices together.
  • Ask at every table of leadership: how can we make room, make this table more balanced, who’s missing?
  • Recognize the realities of childbearing and honor it completely. That means keeping positions open, building flexible schedules, re-thinking the plans for advancement in churches & ministries.
  • The older generation of both men and women mentoring, supporting, encouraging, calling-out the younger generation of female leaders. Not just women supporting women but men and women supporting men and women.
  • Consider how to support women practically and tangibly through seminary and then ministry related to childcare help, books, mentorship, and financial support.
  • Start naming the elephant in the room before certain meetings and planning sessions get started–“We know women haven’t had an equal voice in this before. How can we shift that dynamic in here right now so everyone is heard?
  • Conference organizers and local have a solid and clear list of female speakers to draw from and use them; intentionally work toward balance.
  • Men showing up for gender equality conversations as much as women do (I added this one).

These are just a few of the things that were shared in our gathering. What would best practices you add?

My prayer and hope is that more and more spaces & places would be created where women and men were working freely alongside each other as equals, friends, brothers & sisters, and co-creators of wholeness and hope.

God, help us find our way together.


A few other notes:

  • Please read my friend and Denver pastor Kevin Colon’s reflection from the morning on Creating Gender Respectful Environments. I had already written this post when I read his, but really his summary is much better and so encouraging.
  • I’ll be at Sentralized in Dallas this Thursday and Friday sharing the content I love from Down We Go and would love to see you if you are there.


all roads lead to power.

kathyescobar church stuff, faith shifts, injustice, leadership 16 Comments

misused power has a mean daughter

I don’t usually wake up thinking of the word “power”, but I do often wake up thinking about:

My friends living on the fringe.

Those who are trying to leave or heal from abusive relationships.

People I know from all over the place who are healing from “church”.

The realities of mental illness.

The women I intersect with who are meant to lead in church but probably never will have a chance.

How to keep The Refuge alive financially.

Rising violence in the world and how powerless I and so many others around me feel to do anything about it.

The deep divide between “us and them” in too many contexts to count.

Coffee, what I’m going to wear, and the long, crazy list of things I have to do that day.

There’s one common thread that runs through each of these things (except the last one)–power.

My loose working definition of power is “resources, value, voice, and leadership.” I’ve already written a lot about power over time–three words about it, that it’s not like pie, that it’s worth re-thinking, that we know how to live under or over each other but not alongside. I’ve talked about good power & how part of our role as Christ-followers is to pass it on and diffuse it, but that usually works better in theory than practice.

The reason I wanted to write about it yet again is that I think it’s an often-missing-yet-crucial ingredient in so many of these blog-church-faith-life-theology conversations. And it’s maybe the most important to have because all destructive roads lead to it.

Misused power and control go hand in hand.

Misused power and unbalanced resources are tied together.

Misused power and violence can’t be separated.

I was reminded of Augustine’s famous quote this week at a meeting: Hope has two beautiful daughters–Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they don’t remain as they are.

I love this thought, but we could re-write a much darker version centered on power: Misused power has a mean daughter and a cruel son–Control and Division. Control to keep people underneath and division to keep them weak.

In the gospels, Jesus wasn’t just railing on religion. He was calling out misused power, not only with “You’ve got it all wrong.” He also offered a better way. The Beatitudes and the way of the cross are good, solid starts.

It makes me think of what Henri Nouwen says in The Name of Jesus, his book on Leadership: ” What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”

Because theoretical rambling about power isn’t that helpful, I thought I’d share some off-the-top-of-my-head ways we can address issues of power more openly and seek God’s help for healing its dark side so its light and good can be illuminated.

Remember, power isn’t bad. It’s just so often misused.

So here they are, 5 possible ways to address issues of power:

  1. Create safe spaces to talk about it openly. It’s underneath everything, the root of racism and sexism and classism and dysfunctional relationships and the human condition, yet we so often want to avoid it. Wednesday night at our House of Refuge we used our time to talk about race, and it was awkward and hard but I was glad we at least tried in our feeble way to talk about it instead of ignore it.
  1. Recognize our own power and privilege if we have it. When we minimize it or pretend we don’t want it or don’t have it, it isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s damaging. We need to own our white privilege, straight privilege, male privilege, economic privilege more honestly.
  1. Listen, listen, and listen some more to those who are on the underside of power. The only way to do that is to be friends with people who don’t have it. We need to hear from those whose resources, value, voice, and leadership have been diminished, silenced, squelched through culture and systems. They need to be heard and asked questions that help us better understand: “What does it feel like for you? What’s your story? Your family’s story? What makes you angry? What has hurt you? What helps?
  1. Be honest about our fears of losing it (if we have it). It is vulnerable to lose power or not have it in the way we did. Power can protect and separate us, so the reality is that when we give it up, we are far more human, far more vulnerable, far more weak-in-the-world’s-eyes. That’s worth reckoning with not only individually but as systems. Unhealthy systems are so afraid of losing power.
  1. Take out the shame of talking about it because it’s just…real. I sometimes feel guilty always bringing it up, worried that people will misperceive me as power-hungry or a whole host of other things that are confusing about talking about it as a Christian. But I think that’s part of the problem–we haven’t talked about, we haven’t addressed it, we haven’t been honest about it. And that is why our systems are so jacked up. The one place on earth that is supposed to be one of the healthiest, least-power-imbalanced, has become one of the worst.

What would you add?

I’d love to create new paths that lead to healthy power.

New ways of talking about it.

New ways of reframing it (come to the Denver Faith and Justice Conference!).

New ways of diffusing it so it multiplies.

New ways of leading and shifting it so that dignity can be restored, relationships can be free, and systems can be living, thriving reflections of the Kingdom of God in all kinds of beautiful ways.

shame, systems, and spiritual abuse.

kathyescobar faith shifts, fundamentalism, healing, leadership 10 Comments

church systems

I have been fringe-following the whole Mark Driscoll thing for years.  In fact, over 8 years ago when we were starting The Refuge, some random person told my partner-in-this-crazy-endeavor about the Acts 29 Network and that “we should consider joining because they might have planting money for us.” He had no idea what Acts 29 was and neither did I. I told him I’d look it up. As I was reading their website, my stomach started getting sicker and sicker as the words “he” and “him” and “spiritual leader” kept scrolling through the pages. I couldn’t even get to the bottom before I clicked off it and started crying. It was early on in my stepping into leading as a female co-pastor and seeing the strength of the organization and the scriptural references behind their words was exactly what I did not need in my life.

What was most interesting about it, though, was that I had no idea what Acts 29 was.

So many people don’t.

It looks and sounds cool.

It’s slick and funded and supportive of new planters.

It’s been a growing network–cultivating a particular kind of patriarchal theology and practice all over the place in small and big ways.

After then making the connection of Acts 29 to Mark Driscoll, I watched a few videos and read a few things he had written and immediately swore off ever even touching anything related to him because it all made me feel so sad and mad.  The worst part isn’t his theology; lots of people have what I think is damaging theology.

To me, the worst part is that thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people flock to his churches & go to his conferences & plant new churches built upon those principles.

What about the people who have joined in and gone along with this? The truth is that they are sincere, dear, amazing people who love Jesus and got sucked into a system that preys upon their faith and indoctrinates them in a very systematic yet subtle way.

Shame is a powerful controlling tool. A shame-based theology permeates our souls and makes us need our “fix from God” to somehow realign with him. It is actually a big draw because it becomes an identity–feeling bad and feeling good.The result is that people flock to church to get back on track spiritually week after week after week.  In a weird way, it’s like smoking. Tobacco companies put nicotine in to keep drawing millions of people back to the local store to buy a pack.

Shame works the same wayit keeps drawing countless numbers of people into church so that we can find some weird sense of relief by being attached to the rigid, clear rules of a shame-based system where someone is in charge of dispensing God to us.

The hardest part for me to swallow is how Jesus is all tied up in it and is being used in a way that was everything he was against.

But that’s what sick systems do–twist truth and try to control people instead of setting them free.

Church systems are supposed to be spiritual hospitals, safe havens, places of refuge, spaces-to-meet-and-touch-and-find-the-real-Jesus, living systems of hope, and cultivators of peace. 

but alas, sometimes they have operated much more like corporations, prisons, movie theaters. and also like crazy you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-how-did-that-guy-get-them-to-do-or-believe-that cults that can look like rocking contemporary churches in cool cities around the US.

Unhealthy systems thrive on control and homogeneity. This is why “belief” and kick-butt-and-take-names leadership makes these systems go. It is nuts, really, how well it works. However, I do not think that has anything to do with God. I think it has to do with human nature and our desire for kings & celebrities & someone-to-just-tell-us-what-to-do-so-we-can-just-fit-in.

But the worst part about all of this is that shame & unhealthy systems create the perfect cocktail for spiritual abuse.  And spiritual abuse is Real with a capital R. Abuse does a number on our heads and confuses us.  It strips us of dignity and strength and so we think the way we’re being treated or pastored or lead is normal. The God trump card makes it even more crazy-making because when we resist or speak out or question or wonder or doubt, abusive systems immediately have the trump that puts us back in line and further complicates our ability to see or think clearly.

The easy thing that some people can say on the sidelines to people in abusive churches (and women or men trying to leave abusive relationships) is “Why don’t they just leave? Why are they so dumb to follow?” “What’s their problem?”

After being on the outside of an extremely unhealthy system for a good chunk of years now, I can say without a doubt–when you are in it, it sounds good, it feels good, it looks good. It works. It is your life. It is your kids’ lives.  It makes sense. It is all tangled up with God and our souls and it seems normal.

Right now, my heart hurts for all of the dear folks who are stumbling & tumbling & crawling their way out of shame-based unhealthy spiritually abusive systems during this season.

You are so not alone.

The road to freedom is long and rough and scary, but it’s so worth it in the end.

There is life on the other side.

And may we keep praying for all those who still think it’s normal & are stuck in a perpetual cycle of shame & control. Who are still following abusive leaders and giving themselves week after week to systems that power up and use them. Who have yet to taste freedom.

Oh, how I hope that over time the words of Toni Morrison ring true for those of us who once were in shame-based, unhealthy & sometimes spiritually abusive systems–may we get a chance to use our freedom to help set someone else free, too.

God, we need your help. There’s a lot of free-ing to be done these days. 

making friends with disapproval

kathyescobar blog, ex good christian women, women in ministry 1 Comment

making friends with disapproval

thank you, those of you who took time to try the poll about capitalization here (sorry it didn’t work consistently) or sent me messages or comments. i really appreciate the feedback. bottom line: if i tally everything, nocaps wins but not by a ton. most people can go either way.

i knew it would probably be split like this; however, i think that i’m supposed to experiment with a change and see what it feels like. i can always change my mind back. it is really good practice for me to experiment and be open to change & flexibility because i tend to be a person who does things forever the same way just because that’s the way i’ve always done it.  it’s true–i don’t like capital letters and don’t use them for the most part and don’t ever plan to in my day to day.

at the same time, capital letters don’t make me not me.  

i’m still the same, and my words are still the same.

plus, the truth is i use them all the time when i write in other places and those pieces aren’t less-me.

so i am going to give capitals a spin here on blog posts for the next few months and see how it feels. it’s not because i feel pressure to conform or that i am losing my personal style or selling out. it’s that i know sometimes it’s hard for people to read these very-public posts and that’s worth considering.

thursday i’ll be back with a post that’s been stirring around in my head for the past month about shame & systems & spiritual abuse.

today, though, i thought i’d share a brief excerpt from the post i wrote for sheloves magazine’s september issue, centered on “lead” that’s up today. i write a down we go column for them every month, and usually i just put the link at the bottom of the most recent post here. however, in the spirit of living with disapproval and how important it is to get good at it, here’s a little excerpt:

...we will have to live with disapproval. 

It’s just that simple. There’s no way around it.

We will have to go to bed at night feeling vulnerable.

We will have to live with weird feelings like people don’t like us.

We will have to stand up against resistance that questions our gifts and roles.

We will have to have hard conversations that will drain us.

We will have to have our motives and sometimes our faith be challenged.

We will have to feel awkward using our voice and living with what we say.

We will have to resist our desire to delete that Facebook post or edit our blog entry because we are sure that it will make people uncomfortable.

We will have to wrestle with doubts about our abilities.

We will have to stand up and keep walking when we want to sit down or crawl again.

After all these years, it still happens to me. I leave certain situations feeling stupid. I preach a sermon at another church and wonder if they approve of me. I use my voice at a meeting and am sure that people were annoyed.

Yep, I am living with disapproval.

My guess is that a lot of us out here struggle with the same thing.

click here to read the whole post.  

i hate disapproval, but i’m learning to make friends with it.

i would love to hear your thoughts and am really looking forward to being back here this fall.

see you thursday!

peace, kathy


ps: i also wanted to highlight that i finally got the spiritual midwives section under the faith shift tab up, pointing toward some spiritual directors who can help journey through spiritual transitions.  i’ll be adding a few more, too, but this is a great start of some friends of mine who understand faith shifts & are wonderful companions and guides through the messy process.