Continuing the Conversation…

Since posting the last I’ve had MANY conversations and email exchanges regarding these issues. There’s something here. I feel jazzed about the conversation we’re having. Though some of you didn’t post in the comments but emailed me instead! Can I encourage you to post in the comments for all to benefit from? And though it takes some time to read through these replies, I encourage you all to revisit what’s been said by others. I think you’ll see what I mean. So let’s keep talking.First a confession. I don’t think Kim and I are going back to that church we’ve been trying. Now we might–I COULD be mistaken. But I doubt it. There’s nothing “wrong” with that church, per se. We just don’t need it. And we’ve learned that we’re not going to affect change in such an environment. We just aren’t. I’m so sad about it. I wish we COULD just go there. But it’s ABSOLUTELY obvious that we can’t. We just can’t.It’s not that there was some glaring contradiction to a core belief that made it absolute for me (and maybe for Kim too). But what I know at some level is that much like a cavity in a tooth, it starts as just a small surface pit but with time erodes to the point where only a root canal can save the tooth’s functionality. I don’t want even the surface pits. I want them filled and fluoride-protected.I just had a few hot-buttons pushed on Sunday, and realized as much as I want to MAKE it work (for me) I don’t HAVE to. At least there. I felt as though we were “new church members harry & sally” and we were getting sent through the “Church Factory” at a steady pace. I looked down and saw the conveyor belt under my feet. And it was moving. Each person at the church seemed like another factory worker tweaking me here, testing us there–all mindlessly. Small groups, Saturday night chili cook off, etc. I was getting that very slight panicky sensation I’ve hinted at before. I realized I was being treated like a PRODUCT. And that is a non-negotiable.Let me tell you what I want. I want to walk into a community of faith and NOT feel like a commodity or a raw material. I want to feel like a “new hire,” a member of the team. I want to be another blue-collar worker who learns the ropes–what others are doing and how I fit into the process. I want to be somewhere where the product isn’t “increased attendance” (or as churches LIKE to think, “conversions”), but instead, where we yield a fish-n-loaves amount of CHRIST’S LOVE in a variety of ways simple AND sublime. THAT’S what I want.As we were pulling out of the parking lot last Sunday, I proposed to Kim that we NOT nitpick by listing the things that got on our nerves during the service–instead, let’s just KNOW those things are there and need not be announced. I went on to suggest that we intentionally talk about what DOES work for us. Then I said I had NO commentary on what we just experienced. We just laughed and went to lunch with my grandparents. Reflecting…I wanted to wait as long as possible before following up just to see what became of the conversation. A lot of thoughts have trickled in over the past few weeks. Here are some interesting bits I liked–you can revisit the comments to see them in context:Rudy’s quotables: >”I’m asking him with all my might to show me a miracle.””We need to change something so that we can see Him work. As it is now, if God is working we don’t know it.” >Truth does not fear questioning, it invites it. Rudy and I get to spend a fair amount of time together throughout the week and have plenty of conversations that shape my writing. The things we’ve been latching onto are the concepts of persistence, fearless reevaluation and making sure we don’t throw out the baby Jesus with the bathwater. He reached WAY back this week to a high school English teacher of ours who said “The purpose of purpose is to seek it not achieve it.” And that works well and segues nicely with Lonnie’s comments from the last post about “not having arrived.” Lonnie: >”The places I used to fit in are now filled by other staff members. Where I used to have purpose and authority I now am just another face in the crowd.” >”…then God interrupted. “Since when has the point ever been about being comfortable or things being easy?”” …It’s about what I can bring…not what I take away.” I’d never expect Lon to go all JFK on us, but it’s oh so true. Our needs are met by meeting others needs.Jason: >”I have tired of the legalist philosophy that neatly places all hardship and joy in the Faith Walk into compact categories, and I am beginning to tire of the throw-all-rules-out-the-window philosophy I have adopted by default.””(I) am unwilling to give it a chance” Jason’s at the tail end of nearly a decade in Marion, Indiana where we went to college. I think he’s suffering from overstaying his welcome. But in doing so, he’s arrived at the same place we all are: done with the system. Dave Ward.: In an altogether separate (yet harmonizing) dialogue, Dave talked about Biblical Jacob’s metamorphosis into Israel. And even pointed out the etymologic roots of the name “Israel.”Isra = Wrestle El = GodNow, THAT made sense to me. Here’s the rest of his thoughts: >”As far as spiritually grounded…what does that mean anyway? Spiritually grounded? Was Martin Luther spiritually grounded as he was making his big grace breakthroughs and breaking the rules, shaking his fist at the sky, and struggling with what to do with the church(REAL) that he hated and the church(POTENTIAL) that he loved? Was he spiritually grounded when he said “Trust God, sin boldly?” hmmm. Who CARES!!!!!!! Something’s amiss…so what? I am not trying to rush past your pain, minimize your confusion or fix you at all. BUT WHAT IF IT IS JUST PLAIN FINE THAT YOU ARE THE WAY YOU ARE WHERE YOU ARE HOW YOU ARE WITH ALL THE QUESTIONS YOU HAVE, NONE OF THE ANSWERS YOU WANT, BUT YOU REFUSE TO STOP CARING, SEARCHING, LOOKING, ASKING, CHALLENGING, WRESTLING WITH GOD????” Dave is my friend on earth who walks a VERY similar path–yet his valleys are often deeper than mine and his peaks are often higher. He grounds me in many ways by helping me to keep it all in perspective. Together we’ve learned that indeed there is MUCH uphill climbing. But the view only gets better as you go. I love how Dave has given me permission to be a “Professional Wrestler!” And I’m certain that applies to all of us.Dave Drury:Now, Dave Drury posted an encouraging “props to me” in the comments, which gives me the warm fuzzies, but what I ate up like a cheeseburger were his private comments too me via email and IM. And I’ll risk his wrath by posting them here!: >I’m not in the same place as you – because I went through my majortransitions/questions of the church when we lived in Boston (at Harvardthe classes are about 50% Unitarian, by the way – the first day I met aUnitarian Lesbian Studying to be a Minister was the first day I toldmyself = “You’re not in Indiana anymore, Toto.)” >…anyway – so I’m not there anymore – so it won’t be fun for you to haveme in your dialogue because I’ll probably sound like a schmuck thatsmugly talks about “the other side” and “what it’s like to come out theother side.” You’ll likely end up questioning if I ever did REALLYquestion things and deconstruct with the intensity and angst that youare.  And that judgementalism will piss me off just like mine will pissyou off. And later in a chat…. >I wonder if the experience you guys are having is from being a part of the conservative/backward church and then finding out that the emperor has no clothes..And I wonder why I haven’t had the same experience? My Dad did a great job of exposing me to the dirt behind the curtain in a healthy way…So I wonder if I always knew the church sucked… but that it still contained the seed for the future — so I’ve devoted my life to it. Dave and his family are PROLIFIC and insightful writers. You could spend a week at their collective site and not get through all the good stuff. For those of
you who don’t know Dave, he IS an anomaly. I love having him in my corner ESPECIALLY when I don’t agree with him! We’ve always had PLENTY and not enough in common simultaneously, that I hope he feels he can chime in to the dialogue. OR counter with thoughts on his site!!Derek: >”SO, we can either bitch & moan all day long or we can do something about it! who’s gonna go first?” What else can I say?!?!?! In a separate email, Derek pointed out an article in Charisma magazine called, “When Christians Quit Church.” Their site is LAME in the sense that they don’t put the full article online, but if you put the title in quotes and Google it, you’ll trip across some interesting conversation. More than that though, if you’re the churchy type and have been around the buzz of “The Purpose Driven Life,” you’ll enjoy reading Derek’s recently published article on the fad. Also notice this book is the only title I don’t link to amazon. If you read my lengthy discourse in reply to Derek’s article, you’ll understand why I don’t want you to rush out and buy it!Mel: >I don’t feel God, I can’t see Him, I have beenirritated with church, very disillusioned by “Christiandom” in general, andwondering, “what the @#$?” I finally found a church thatmoves me closer to God. Where people admit they suck just as much as I doand they base their faith on actual scripture, what they have read anddiscussed, and encouragement from our church community. Amazing. Granted,it is no utopia. I can’t see God and I can’t feel Him – it’s been that way for a long timenow. But I do know He’s there…Sometimes I justhave to choose knowing that He’s there instead of wondering why I can’t feelHim.” Mel hits it on the head–we don’t want to be sheep being beaten by the shepherd. Nor do we want to be coddled like every Sunday is group therapy. We suck, we know each other also suck and we just want to be healthy anyhow, and prostrate ourselves before God!!!Karen: >You expressed what I have been unable to put into words. Do either of you know about But hey, then there’s always Xzhibit and Ty Pennington. Rudy showed me this article, and I thought it was FANTASTIC. I loved this quote: >”To give the poor a gift that far exceeds their wildest imagination and to give that gift with respect and joy is not just a good thing; it is a new and saving thing…”All that to say, with my last post and this one, I’m thinking there’s a bunch of us out there. Maybe we’re the Ragamuffins that Brennan Manning hinted at.Am I frustrated that the only outlet I have now (church) is a place for ANSWERS and not for QUESTIONS? Definitely. But do I think I’m ultimately going to “get there?” Not really. I am honestly just lonely for a group of others who challenge me towards Christ-likedness in a way that makes sense to me the way that so many of the things I listed above make sense to me. And I think it’s okay for us to screw it up a bit in trying!In her book, “The Artist’s Way” Julia Cameron writes specifically about how perfectionism stunts artistic endeavors:”We’ve all heard that the unexamined life is not worth living, but consider too that the UNLIVED life is not worth examining.” Isn’t that wild? Julia also suggests that “anything worth doing might even be worth doing badly.” I love it. This book uprooted me a couple of years ago–it was great! And let’s face it, writing a novel or a symphony has that same messy marriage of art and science as does the convention of the church. There is objectivity. There is subjectivity. There is form and function. And there’s plenty of room for a HUGE arc of dynamic range in interpreting God’s Word, the mission of Jesus and how it’s supposed to manifest itself in our daily lives while walking on earth.More on Process and Product I have a tendency to get enamored with the TOOLS of any given trade. I dig cycling because not only is riding fun, but the mechanics of a bicycle are intriguing to me. I love doing anything on my Mac. Even my accounting–almost. Point is, I love the PROCESS as much or more than I love the PRODUCT.I’m afraid I (and others of us) can get so caught up in the mechanics of what “church” CAN be that we usurp time from doing the work God intended us to do THROUGH the church. I’m guessing that there’s a balance. Most of you reading this site are bona-fide gear-heads when it comes to church. You’re familiar enough with the parts to see how they should work in concert. And you know when a “wheel’s out of balance” or when the “harddrive needs defragging” or something like that. But as I write this wI wonder if this is one of the cataracts creating a blindspot for me right now. I don’t want to be a church tweaker.My father-in-law likes to say, “Real engineers ship.” Meaning they don’t sit around all day improving on their schematics and chewing on their R&D. They commit, they act, the produce, and ultimately, they ship. I hold to the fact that “Real followers of Jesus LOVE.” Or ACT. Or MOVE. They don’t sit around pontificating endlessly.I feel as though I inadvertently took the red pill. Now I have to deal with what that all means. I think church is valid. I think, Dave Ward’s right–there is NOTHING wrong with us wrestling this hard with these things. And I think we’re making progress internally and externally.In my next post, I’ll share with you a list of “Things that make sense to me” that I’ve been working on lately. It covers all sorts of categories of things from movies/music to ideas and philosophies. I’d love for you to respond below to THESE things above, but maybe start a list you can keep handy of those things that make sense to you.


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