Category Archives: church

Could We Just Agree to Make Beautiful Music Together?

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

I worry. A lot. Some would say (and have), “Get some meds lady!”

What I often worry about, is how people perceive my faith – especially those who financially support Choices, the mission I’ve served, fought for, deconstructed and reconstructed, for more than twenty years – and taken seriously the mission of nurturing life, thereby upending some former tightly held beliefs. (And as Kathy Escobar recently captured so well, my faith hasn’t changed, only my beliefs. If you have a few minutes, take a listen to her wise guiding.) I’ve given up certainty and rightness for faith, hope, love and mystery, which, while that might make some nervous, brings me a sense of closeness to God.

Most people don’t care. Some people do. Others wonder why I even talk or write about it. My life is complex, in that, I’ve mostly not been allowed to be honest about my faith journey – it’s a risky venture when you’re in ministry. And frankly, it has been a tremendous time of loneliness, grief, depression, anxiety, stress, and sadness. Interestingly, there is a life-giving sense to letting my life speak more openly and vulnerably. Why? Because what I find is that I’m not alone. But, that might be another post.

One of the greatest gifts of my life was/is to experience frustration with my faith and beliefs. To have my taught understandings not fit my current life experiences – to being increasingly desperate to find a different understanding…as in, well, surely, there must be more to the story – or at least another perspective that was more compassionate, that would better represent the person I was created to be – and reflect back to the world.

“Learn to be humble by doing all the humble work and doing it for Jesus. You cannot learn humility from books; you learn it by accepting humiliations. Humiliations are not meant to torture us; they are gifts from God. These little humiliations—if we accept them with joy—will help us to be holy, to have a meek and humble heart like Jesus.”
— Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Thanks for the reminder Mother Teresa. I get it. 

So, shifting gears a bit by way of metaphor – remember these are random musings – here’s a little something Jim and I were conversing about this morning – these are just short little insights to help us consider how we might sit with others of different beliefs – but the same faith.

Some people believe there’s only one way to parent, so if you’re doing it differently, from their perspective, you’re wrong. Now consider all the parenting articles, books, blogposts, and opinions from friends and family. I think you get this.

  • Children don’t listen to what you say, they do, however, watch what you do.
  • It is a lived life that speaks, and not the mouth. (Thanks for these words, beloved hubby of 22 years on Friday.)
  • So many perspectives, but love shows up as the strongest factor for change.
  • Even when parents abuse or neglect their children, those children will defend their parents. They will choose to be with them.
  • Every parent has his/her unique gifts – it is as they live into who they are that they give their best gifts to their children. Living into infers it’s still happening, that is, the learning part – after almost 40 years of parenting. (Yes, early start, coupled with later additions, equal lengthy parenting experience.)

This morning, I made the decision to not wake my 15 year old up, because after doing so several times, and hearing his complaint, “Mom, I was just getting up – you didn’t need to come and be sure I was up,” I chose not to, even though I feared he would be late. Was it wrong? Should I have gone to be sure he was up? Some would say yes, some would say no. And that’s my point. There’s no exacting way to do it right.

These albeit somewhat random thoughts are to help us consider the unique ways in which we respond to people who come for care at Choices – we believe that the belief differences present among our volunteers, are a healthy balance in community.

Even when there’s tension. Even when our beliefs are in conflict with one another. Here’s an example of what that looks like: birth control. So, some believe that birth control prevents procreation which is their high value, others believe birth control invites more sexuality-outside-of-marriage, and others believe that if you (actually) want to curb abortion, you will most definitely be a birth control proponent.

Head spinning yet? Just try juggling these, and other tension-filled talks of best practices on a given hot topic!

And here’s where some of the fear shows up for me: depending upon where one lands in the above conversation, one might withhold critical dollars. Consequently, people will not be cared for. People will suffer. Maybe people will succumb to whatever keeps them from finding life and well-being, because having a precise and quite certain perspective implies that difference must not be supported, and by extension, neither must people – the very people we’re called to love and nurture.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who isn’t in a faith stream who uses the word saved, and her first priority isn’t to ensure that they know Jesus – at least not in the sense of reciting something they don’t yet understand. She prefers they experience what knowing Jesus feels like: compassionate, loving, generous, merciful, and grace-filled. Does that make her of no value as a volunteer in a mission where one’s faith compels one to serve? Well, duh, right? Except, I’ve lived with the reality of having your thoughts, words,  actions, and life scrutinized – and truth be told, I’m not very good at being under a microscope. Frankly, it’s terrifying and dehumanizing.

And so I live in constant fear – some would say irrational, hence the meds suggestion – that the manner in which I hold my beliefs, and subsequently that which informs the processes of caring for pregnant and parenting folks is less-than sufficient, or worse (as I have been told), just plain wrong.

But it’s who I am. It’s who, after years of discerning and wrestling with ‘how then shall I live’ most honors my Creator’s createdness in me.

Is there only one way of holding faith? Given that our Creator God, (and creative God?) has shown such grand diversity among the world’s people and places, I’m going with no. I’m going with another metaphor, that of an orchestra, where each musician, in concert together with others, plays their unique part and together presents beautiful music. If everyone played the clarinet in the same manner, with the same notes, well, boring, just boring. I want to hear the cello, the viola, the double bass…and more, the percussion instruments of the cymbals, drums and maybe the gong. Each sounding a bit different – and each contributing to the wholeness of the orchestra.

Could we just agree to make beautiful music together? 

Interestingly, and conveniently, my friend Jim Henderson posted this today, on his birthday – his faith work being one of the key reasons we originally moved to Seattle. If you take the time to read it, my sense is that you’ll grasp a better understanding of my approach to faith and belief, especially this, because, well, this has been on the repeat cycle for the past several years:

“My experience with most Christians and Atheists for that matter is that they cant find a way to sit in the room with difference. They can’t stop themselves from mentally comparing their best with their ideological opponents worst. They either try to re-educate them, control them or exorcise them.”

I thought exorcise was a typo, until I used an online dictionary to remind me that to exorcise is to drive out or attempt to drive out (an evil spirit) from a person or place. And sadly, that is too often what occurs with difference.


Unchurched Neighbors Being Jesus-y

small_151594308Our retired neighbors go salmon fishing a few times every year – and they always bring us a portion of whatever they’ve caught. This time it was just minutes after they arrived home, and it came as nearly a foot long slab of bright red-fleshed fish.

If you know me, you know I’m generally not a fish eater, and I know, sad, because it’s so healthy. Whatever. It’s fishy, especially salmon. Now halibut, that would be another story. Pure, white flesh, decidedly non-fishy, yet fish. Win. Oh, and battered please. It’s good, especially with a generous splash of malt vinegar. And a side of potatoes cooked any of a bizillion ways. But, Jim loves salmon, and so I joy in this generosity for him.

Here’s some random thoughts that have been ruminating, and are more to the Jesus-y theme about our delightful and kindhearted neighbors. 

First off, I didn’t set out to inquire whether our neighbors know Jesus. I know, right? Evangelical fail.

Or not. “By their fruits you will know them…” so I’m thinking I kinda know them. Excepting our six year Seattle hiatus, they’ve been our neighbors for many years. Gracious. Encouraging. Generous. (Oh, and long-suffering, since we’ve had some renters who were less than fabulous.) We know their fruits: goodness, kindness, and so forth.

Their language doesn’t show up with the salvation assurances that are key to some traditions that seek to hear to be sure we’ve done our job. Formulaic Christianese lingo, has been decidedly absent from our conversations – perhaps that’s why we’ve had so many of them.

And they’re not churchgoers, well, at least not these days. So, they can’t be Christian or know Jesus, right? Wrong. (Yes, I’m aware of all those Scriptures that people use to mandate church attendance.)

And, I really like these words from Roger Woolsey’s adapted variation of D.T. Niles quote: “Give me rules and I will flee. Give me Jesus and I am free.” 

For me, frankly, I’m exhausted from the wrestle of needing to define our faith in an exacting manner. In my work/calling/mission life, it’s become somewhat of an expectation or necessity to do so – and yet I resist. (If you’d like to split a four cup French press sometime, let me know.)

For my purposes, the element I’m most interested in, is that people discover there is a faith that invites hope – that there is something beyond what we currently experience, and even if we have doubts about the certainty of it all, it’s the direction our heart is (increasingly) oriented. See, there’s the hope: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. That there is a greater Force at work in the world, and maybe the world beyond what we can see. But I have no interest in telling someone what that faith should look like. Jesus said “Do not be afraid, only believe.” I’m trying. And I’m finally embracing the reality that it’s enough.

Years ago a kindred spirit Catholic friend remarked: “You Evangelicals always need to attach the Christian label to everything,” after I had excitedly shown her my newest acquisition of a Christian chemistry book for my youngest daughter. It was yet another significant moment that invited me to reconsider the way I held my faith. Would a regular chemistry book be any less Christian? Doubtful, unless it intended to bend science.

Several years ago I decided I had no need – and no desire, to insure that other people’s faith looked like mine. So, our neighbors faith looks different than my experiences, my understandings and my story. Okay. No problem.

But there is a problem. Some Christian expressions size people up to determine their worthiness to God, or their insurance for heaven, by their specific beliefs, in specific language, a specific lifestyle, and specific attendance at an approved church. And that makes me not only sad, it makes me irked (weary, irritated, bored). But don’t be tossing daggers at my view here: church can be a fabulous place to express and practice one’s faith. I have loved some church experiences – some of you know I’m a community junkie who craves conversation. But I’m here today to say that Christians who don’t attend a church aren’t any less faith-full than people who frequent church. (Yes, the co-opted version of faithful was intentional.)

Why is this important? There are people to care for and love: People who are waiting to be included, welcomed, and heard. People whose stories are in process. People who desire to access hope in the form of a believable, beautiful faith, inspired and created by a Beloved God, lived out in the life of Jesus – but not necessarily in a church. And mostly these people aren’t as crazy focused on this God stuff as I am, but they need a voice.

So, yes, I detect reminders of Jesus’ character, and the admonition to love God, and love others in my relationship with my neighbors. These salmon-sharing people also bring us bountiful shares of their garden harvest to our door. They invite us to pick wild plums from their tree. And who knew she is a former school librarian, who helps with managing our little corner book-house (as part of the Little Free Library awesomeness)?

And we share as well. New seedlings for their garden, eggs from our chickens, fresh-made jam, and invitations to periodic social gatherings at our house. But no aha moments of needing to seize the opportunity to make right their faith, by making it look like mine/ours. No manipulative steering of the ship that deters genuine relationship.

But, we’ve  talked. They hold belief in God, in the person of Jesus. We didn’t run them through a checklist, we just had conversations.

Can we be sad they’re not in a local church? Maybe. But if only because we who have experienced the beauty of a faith community can grasp the blessing there can be in sharing life and spiritual practices together in a more organized manner.

When we listen to their experiences, though, we can grasp why they might not be. They’re not so different from some of our own less than honorable experiences: command and control models that dictate what and how to believe, that somehow eclipse personhood and calling and grace.

And so we sow relationship, across the fence, with mutual interest in gardening, sharingmedium_14716688469 resources and goods,andwords of care that help us get through the day, week, month and year(s) with a few more smiles and a little more gratefulness.

Meanwhile, they’re still delivering broccoli, cabbage, carrots and lemon cucumbers by the armload – and we’re feeling cared for and nurtured, body and soul. And I’m grateful for the lessons we’ve learned from being neighbors, that give us a picture of the heart of God for other relationships in our lives: a bountiful, generous and gracious love.

If you’ve had an unpleasant experience in church when you were seeking hope, or to understand faith in a way that honored your need, I think I’ll just say, I’m sorry. If none of this interests or matters to you, and yet you’ve gotten this far, then, I think I’ll just say, thanks for hanging in there, and I hope there’s one tidbit you’ve gleaned that makes you feel refreshed and curious. Questions are always welcome.