‘I’ve been broken, lost, depressed, oppressed, and weak that I might find favor and gain the weak. I’m flexible, adaptable, and able to do and be whatever is needed for all kinds of people so that in the end I can use every means at my disposal to offer them salvation. I do it all for the gospel and for the hope that I may participate with everyone who is blessed by the proclamation of the good news’ –1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (The Voice)
This week, Jud and I attended a gathering in Colorado Springs designed to encourage those of us who have undergone a radical change in faith perspective, are undergoing a radical change in faith perspective, or know someone in those categories. Colorado Springs has a reputation of being a mecca for conservative faith organizations. We haven’t found it easy to find cohesive groups of more open- or progressive-minded people. Certainly, we struggle to find anyone who has wrestled with long-held, conservative beliefs and have lived to tell the tale. Even finding a church that will have open discussions between opposing scriptural views on relevant subjects like how to embrace people who follow Jesus wholeheartedly but don’t belong to the privileged power class, did Jesus promote non-violence and how do we embrace His teachings in a violent world, or how do we ‘go into all the world and make disciples’ when we don’t want to admit we’ve judged a majority of people in ‘the world’, or how do we find communities of faith when traditional church services don’t fill the needs of relationship and worship? Tough questions. Tougher discussions. Because there is no Sunday school or pat answer for any of them.
So, through word of mouth, we gathered to hear pastor and author Kathy Escobar, who has just released Faith Shift, give words of perspective to all the churning in our souls. Between 30-40 people came, from all walks of life, from various degrees of ‘faith shifting’. We came: bikers, single moms, worship leaders, college professors, artists. Devastated ones, healing ones, healed ones, faith-less ones. All of us with our own church stories. All of us desperate to believe we aren’t alone. All of us ordinary. I talked with people who had come through to the other side and stood victorious. I talked with many who, like me, had stumbled up from falling off a cliff, assessed their injuries, and started to reorient themselves to their new surroundings. I talked with one who broke my heart, because I saw the deer-in-headlights look that I had not too long ago.
As we processed our faith journeys in the larger group and in our smaller table groups, I found myself fighting tears most of the evening. Taking in the collective emotions in the room and trying to filter those from my own, nearly overwhelmed my already frazzled system. Hearing others tell how they became outcasts in church communities through changing perspectives on Scripture interpretations, I felt a kinship. Like I wasn’t losing my faith in God or Jesus–just in some of the systems that promote a version of Him. Because my entire life has involved traditional church services, my entire identity feels like it’s unravelling. Hearing from others who have travelled longer down this road and have learned to re-braid or re-weave their lives with beauty and peace, gave me a seed of hope that I may learn to love my spiritual scars. But seeds need nurturing. I must learn to love myself and cherish the image of God I project.
But Kathy didn’t let us wallow in our current state. Her emphasis was on rebuilding, empowering our spirits to find even one truth about God that we hadn’t lost. Encouraging us to allow the process to pace our healing. We don’t have to fight against or stress toward healing. And we need each other along the way. I’ve pondered often, since that night, how our current church culture could change, what it would mean if more churches allowed people to express openly doubts, fear, anger, loss in their faith? If more church leaders risked vulnerability and expressed honestly and publicly their own faith journeys? Would more people feel less alone? Less not-good-enough? More connected? I know I would. Because all of life needs expression and celebration of beauty–even the ugly parts … maybe especially the ugly parts.
Training is rarely fun–if you take it seriously. However, when you feel your body, soul and mind automatically working in unison during a competition, the experience cannot compare to anything else. The oneness you feel within yourself creates a power, a synergy, that propels you to complete the game regardless of the outcome. If I can keep my mind and heart on that prize–not the prize of winning, but the prize of competing–I can continue the journey, no matter how jagged the terrain. And I look forward to discovering who else is on the trail … those who will encourage me and those I can encourage.
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