What If: The Birthday of the Church is My Exit Party?

Today is Pentecost. Pentecost is considered by many modern Christians to the birthday of the Church. According to the Biblical account in the book of Acts that is traced to this day, the original followers of Jesus (including the disciples) were in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. As the story goes, there was a rushing wind that came through the crowd and caused them to speak in different tongues. It was Peter, one of the twelve, that then explained that it was not drunkenness, but the Spirit of God that had come upon the people. He retold the prophecies that called for such a day. He told of the work of Jesus as a savior who was raised from the dead. In this moment, the more than 3,000 came to repent and believe in Jesus and were baptized. Around the world, this day is celebrated with Confirmations and recommitments to the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. While there is certainly a different feeling to this Pentecost in many churches today, it is certainly a feast day of celebration for those that follow the rhythms of the story of the Christian faith.

As I have done with so many things in my journey of questions, I began to look at this story as I approached the end of Eastertide and this writing journey. Just like most parties, we each approach a celebration differently. I can’t imagine the scene in Jerusalem that day, but I can imagine it was a bit more chaotic than what I long for when I gather a few friends for a holiday celebration. The fire and tongues and mass baptism only adds further drama to the occasion. As I have reflected on this day that I have long touted as a beautiful visual of God’s presence in the world, I realized that the actual depiction in Scripture is the very scene that repels me from mass faith gatherings, even today. If I had been there and 3,000 people came forward to an altar call, my skeptic mind would be in overdrive. That’s just the truth.

It only further intrigues my questioning heart that this expression of the birth of the Church is enabled and motivated by one of the most deeply personal and tender aspects of faith for me today. The Spirit is something that I cannot deny. I believe in the mystery of the internal nudgeing of Spirit. I long for those moments, when in ways that I can’t explain or understand, the Divine is able to connect with creation. And at my core, I know that the Holy Spirit did not come into existence that day. The Spirit was and is and is to come. The Spirit is and can and does. It always has. Sure, the image of the comforter that comes to connect to humanity after the earthy life of Jesus ended is the common mold of expression in understanding the Spirit, but I believe that the great mystery of the presence of the Divine cannot be separated from Spirit, so from the beginning, so has Spirit been.

What I know for me today is that I’m not interested in the mass movements of religious expression. I am not motivated or stirred by anything that could even appear to be orchestrated group think. Should I encounter a group that I perceive to be drunk in words, actions or behavior, I’m not sure that I would even look long enough to hear the “explanation” of the situation. I am a doubter of the act. What I have realized is that in so many ways, the story that is the example of the birth of the Church is the very reason that I’ve lost my connection with the Church.

I have spent my entire life deeply embedded in the Christian Church. I have literally given every aspect of my life to the work of the institution. I have fought and created and tried. I have planted and studied the systems. I have breathed deeply and lost my breath. 13 years ago, I was a part of a team that began a church in League City, TX. Since that time, I have served as a leader, teacher and elder. In mid-March, I resigned from the elder board and at that time, I took a very important step away from the Church. I journeyed though the end of Lent and Holy Week in an intentional aloneness. When Easter came, I realized that the journey of the next season was being revealed in a global pandemic and in a personal internal one. My Eastertide 50 days of writing has been a public honoring of the private journey that I have been on for years. I made an intentional decision to listen to myself and my own journey in this season. For all of the hard, I am more free than I have been in quite some time.

What I am not doing in this season in committing to anything but my own personal journey of today. I am taking a very deliberate step out of Church life, and I don’t know if I will go back. My plan for this morning does not look anything like the Sunday mornings of the last 45 years of my life. If you were to Find My Friend me right now, you would probably see that I am walking a labyrinth. I can promise you that I have already acknowledged the Creator today. I can assure you that my porch and my tomato plants have become sanctuary for me. I am not without a sense of Spirit.

Here, on this day when we remember that a deeply personal revelation of the Divine was integral in the work and the lives of the followers of Jesus, I like to imagine that I am one that was sitting in the garden on the edge of the city wall. This is the same garden that I sat in with Jesus the night that he was taken to his death. That’s my holy space. I don’t need to be in the crowd of 3,000 to experience the wind. I can assure you that the separation from the business and the mass and paperwork and the thinking about all the ways that other people need to experience a gathering is not where I am feeling the work of God today. I am happily sitting outside the gathering, with an open and questioning awareness. And the Spirit of the Divine Gift and Mysterious Wonder that is beyond anything that I could have ever dreamed of, is blowing a new fresh wind into my life.

What If: You Don’t Need to Worry About My Faith?

I’ve shared many stories about my questions and doubts during this ‘What If’ journey. In the process of publicly voicing the changes that have long been inside of me, there has been a shift. Almost without exception, I have experienced one of three responses from those that are following along. The sociology/psychology nut in me finds this study in human behavior wildly fascinating. Do I have your interest piqued?

Friend #1 is explorer. My inbox is filled with bigger, deeper, more pushing and more shoving into even deeper places thanks to this friend group. Truth be told, this is a small group. What I have discovered in this process is that most of the time, only those that have previously gone before me in an exploratory process are comfortable in this space. Well, that or friends that never had my boxes in the first place! Whatever the motivation for holding this space may be, this group of friends has a unique role. You make me uncomfortable. You have spoken to things that I did not want to consider. I have pushed back on you. On many occasions, you have been the reason that I have bravely stepped out of my boxes. You have also been the caution flags that I have needed. You have reminded me about safety and choice. You have forced me to think before speaking. And most of these vital lessons have come because somewhere in your own process, you have been wounded. Thank you is wildly insufficient.

Friend #2 is distant. This entire conversation is one of two things for #2: uninteresting or unhelpful. Whatever the case, there is not a need to discuss and explore the questions that have rambled through my mind and sparked wonder and discovery in my own exploration. I have heard from this group, “You do you.” While this is often the approach of less-mystical dreamers, I have felt an off-putting distance as I wander into the realm of questioning Spirit. No doubt, this ability to come at life from this position is constructed from a pre-established understanding of certainty. While I would love to share deeper parts of this journey with my model #2 friends, I also fully recognize that without those that are not constantly running the race of deconstructed discovery, this would be a very exhausting world. So to those that hold space for my questions, but do not eagerly jump into the boat of wild thought with me, thank you for waiting safely for me on the shore.

Friend #3 is terrified. To this group of friends, I see you. I love you. I do not need to be saved from this journey. I know that many of you know me in the context of a faith leader. I understand that anytime a shift or change takes place in the life of someone you love, it can be unsettling. The beauty of this journey and the season that I find myself in today is that I am not alone. I am very much alive and thriving and exploring and growing. If you could see me today, you would feel a lightness that I have not had in…well, forever. I am actively leaning into living in ways that I did not know existed. One of the things that I know to have been true in past experiences in church life is an expectation to “be our brother/sister’s keeper.” I want to assure you that you are off the hook on this one. Not only do I have those that are loving me deeply in this season, but I have committed to not going alone on this journey. The real danger zones in my life are entered in secrecy. I know that journeying on the road with no co-passengers is a bad idea for so many reasons. I have chosen wisely. You need not worry or feel the need to rescue. I am not in danger. I actually feel more safe and cared for than I have been in many years. Thank you. Thank you.

One of the very real challenges of being a writer and a life-sharer is that people think they have access and knowledge of your life. While I always long for truth in my tales of life lessons and experiences, it is often hard to remember that the words on this screen are not all of me. What I share and write about is the portion of the journey that is for public consumption. I still have very real private feelings and experiences, many of which, shape and mold me in ways that words on a page cannot express.

Because of that reality, I am refining the way that I respond to expressions about my writing. I feel passionalty about sharing and exploring the real through writing. I do not feel the same way about explaining and defending my life. I have taken wise counsel from those that have gone ahead of me on this journey and I know I will not find joy or comfort in responding to every individual communication to my work. What I hope is that my words make you think about your own journey rather than analyzing or unpacking mine. That sacred work is mine to do. And while I fumble through the journey of discovery, I will share insights along the way. Of course, we will see things differently. Isn’t that the beauty of the human journey? Those are the stories that I want to hear. How is your soul evolving? How is adventure taking hold in your life? How is life coming forth from the places of death? If you feel like sending me a message or reaching out in text, these are the things that I want to know!

To all of the friends that read and explore and feel and sit back and observe, you are woven into this journey in special ways. Worry not, my friends, no need to send out a rescue boat because your sister Lacy is already racing her own little speed boat all over the ocean of life’s wonder. Jump in, the water is quite perfect.

What If: Deconstruction Does Not Require a Rebuild?

In 2002, I began a conscious journey of question asking. At that time, I was not familiar with the term “deconstruction,” but over the last almost 2 decades, that word has come to encompass the more common conversations among many modern progressive leaning Christians. Some have walked away from faith completely. Others have unpacked long held beliefs of theology and yet held onto the roots of the traditions. As this term became more trendy, I have seen some begin to bristle at the idea that what began as a form of rebelling has become quite mainstream. In certain faith circles, a journey of deconstruction is the only entrance ticket.

The interesting part of this journey for me is that I never planned to still be on this road. What began as an attempt to gently unpack understandings that felt stifling and old, has landed me years later in places that I never intended to go. These are arenas that I would have told you, even a few years ago, were beyond my desire and longing. I wrongly assumed that I would explore some messy beliefs and then pack the rest of life in neatly held depositories for open minded exploration. As I’ve discovered, that’s not how it works.

When I gave myself permission to ask the first question, I opened a way of thinking that I could not rebottle. In some ways, I feel like I rubbed a lamp and out popped the magic question asking genie, a genie with unlimited questions. Once I realized that the first question only added depth and richness to the journey of my life, I grew to love the questions. I realized that the unknown was not bad. I came to believe that the beauty of the journey of life was actually more fully known in the doubts and struggles.

As the one in the midst of the deconstructed way of life, I have never felt threatening. I have, however, quickly discovered that my journey makes others very uncomfortable. I will have more words about this particular part of the journey tomorrow, but what I need to say today is that I’m not finished. I’m not even close to being “deconstructed.” So, dear ones that are confused and concerned, hold on tight.

At the very heart of every good question asker is the deep desire to fully engage. When we stop living from the posture of individual containers in a segregated life and intentionally chose to move into integrated and holistic living, we change. Our entire outlook on growth and humanity and spirit and our physical bodies and our mental health begin to align in ways that can be absolutely uncomfortable for those that have chosen to live from multiple bucket. For me, deconstruction has literally wrecked the ability to keep a particular issue, idea or belief in its own compartmentalized thought container. And while this intentional shift has been so life giving, it has disrupted all of the things.

I can no longer see things that were once very right and wrong or black and white as anything but gray. When I apply that to the ways that I have always operated, it causes an immediate shift in priorities. This way of thinking has moved me into spaces of wonderful doubt and loving embracing. It has pushed me to call out injustice and oppression that I would have never acknowledged for fear of displaying spiritually wrong thought. It has even required that I reframe the “biggies” of life like parenting and marriage and friendship. I think it is safe to say that I am (at least) middle aged. At 45, I’m confident that I have lived long enough to have my own experiences and understanding, yet separating from ‘others’ thoughts, and fully embracing the reality that I have the ability to frame my life through my own lens and belief system, is still new ground for me.

What does this mean? Why does this matter? It matters because this is only the beginning. Deconstruction is merely the jumping off point. I like to think that much of my current state of existence is the a mid-air flight of a big fearless leap. Sure, your stomach is in your throat some days. Of course, there is a fear of sticking the landing without over-rotating or belly flopping. These are the very normal life experiences of risk. But what I have found is that the adventure of the decision to jump – the thrill of running to the edge – the moment of bravery that launches your life in a no take-backs kind of way, is simply glorious. There is absolutely no way to stop deconstruction. If I am honest, why would I want to? If deconstruction is an open handed question asking life, I’m here for it. I’m all in for all the things. I’m ready to live the rest of my life asking the questions that wreck the status quo and require me to know MY very own reason for belief and being.

May we sit in the midst of the deconstruction and be completely content that the rebuild is the not the journey.

May we see that the real challenge is not re-construction, but the realization that our world assumes that a structure is needed.

May we enjoy this formless state of contentment, with its warmth and invitation to rest in the unrestricted.

Cheers to the jump, my friends!

What If: I Cannot Trust My Inner Voice?

There is a voice inside of you
that whispers all day long,
‘I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
or wise man can decide
what’s right for you – just listen to
the voice that speaks inside.
Shel Silverstein

As a kid, I was not a lover of words. I did not read. I did not enjoy writing. There was one exception to this rule. I had a handful of books that spoke. Their words lept off the pages to give feelings and meaning to my very confused thinking. As a pre-teen, Go Ask Alice was one of my favorites. Dark and twisty should have been a life label for me in 7th grade. As a younger kiddo, Where The Sidewalk Ends was a favorite ‘I’m pouting in my closet’ read. There seemed to be an understanding of mutual head dwelling with these authors. As I have worked to understand my own inner life, I came across this 1996 poem from Shel Silverstein’s children’s book, Falling Up. The line that had me hooked was “a voice inside of you that whispers all day long.” Two things struck me. One, the voice is whispering so I have to quiet my mind to hear it, and the voice speaks all day long.

One of the single greatest impediments in my ability to listen and trust my inner voice is a very real fear that my own voice is not trustworthy. I grew up with a foundational understanding of my sinful nature, an understanding that I could not escape from, an understanding that I was not able to overcome it. And while I cannot recall a specific conversation where I was told that my intuition was not trustworthy, I developed that belief and I certainly don’t think that thought pattern was ever discouraged. Even when I began to shift to a creation narrative that was founded in a place of goodness, the presence of Original Sin in our world penetrated the ‘goodness’ of my own voice.

I can honestly say that I cannot name one time, not one single time, that I have trusted my intuition and inborn voice 100%. For four and a half decades I have continually told myself that self-revelation was not of God. Sure, I could wrap it in the correct words like ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘God’s gentle voice,’ but I have feared that the whisper was my own…forever. As I have worked to try on new models of faith, I have defined some aspects of this thought insanity differently, especially as a parent. I remember the first time that one of my girls said, “I just get this weird feeling, Mom.” I almost cried. They heard from themselves and BELIEVED. I’m sure I dork-factored this simple statement by vomiting words of encouragement at the revelation. Many times since then, I have (in so many non-chill ways) told both my children to TRUST THAT VOICE OF KNOWING.

Even when I have been unable to listen to my own voice, I have worked so hard to develop in them a belief that their intuition and whispers are trustworthy. When I think back on the most devastatingly painful moments of my life, I am able to identify that so, so many of them could have been avoided if I had just – for even a tiny second – trusted my own internal voice. I could have challenged my self-inflicted shame of “good girl” choices. I could have stood my ground and not gone or done or felt obligated. I could have stepped out of relationships and into good risk. Perhaps, in some weird way, I could have lived the life that the Divine intended for me all along, instead of avoiding the preconceived judgement that I knew would come if I ever trusted.

A wise soul said something the other day that flat threw me for a loop in the best way possible:

"There is no process or system that is better to trust than the deep loud internal discernment God gave me." -my friend Kim

With these words, I began to unpack my fear. How do we start trusting? If you want to learn from a middle-age Kindergarten level truth seeker, here is my wisdom. I can’t hear if I don’t stop talking. Listening is not possible if I am constantly making noise. So the very first thing I need to do is shut my hole. While I am quiet, I breathe. My only “words” or “prayer” in breath is to breathe in Goodness (or the Divine, or Knowing – whatever you invite to teach you) and breathe out fear. I have so many fear voices, so I have to give them a swift kick in the ass to be able to hear my own truth. And then I sit. Sometimes in the silence. Sometimes as I drive. Sometimes as a listen to some music. And as the thoughts and words come, I don’t fight them or their origin or their “truth.” I listen. And then I listen some more.

What I know about growing and changing thought patterns is that it’s takes work. I cannot un-learn years and years of conditioning without years and years of new practice. I’m sitting here today, as I type on my porch, smelling the tomatoes and basil of my garden and listening. And what I hear is good. It’s my voice. It’s my truth. Me. Mine. Goodness.

What If: I Can’t Find a Spiritual Path That Seems Genuine For Me?

This week, I sat down with the last 6 ‘What If’ Questions on my Numbers spreadsheet and I stared at this one. I know what I need to say. I know what I want to say. But typing it just seems to be a bit harder than I ever imagined. For those that have held tight with me the last 40+ days, you know that blowing up my boxed-up world is challenging for a single track thinker. In genuine vulnerability, this question asking series started from a place of fear of the ‘what if’. If I began to publicly say some of the things that have been rolling around in the depths of the deep, what happens? What I found is that I am still here. A bit more free. More empowered. Absolutely, more sure of myself than ever before. So, back to our question today.

The box we are exploring is one of the very square shaped boxes in my mind’s historical journey. Each “spiritual path” is a neatly packed box. We have the Jewish box, Buddhist box and the Hindu box. Can you see the acceptable “other religions” categories? We have the Christian boxes (each with their worthiness pre-determined) of Catholicism, Evangelicalism, liberal theology, protestant roots and traditional liturgically intense practices. And THEN we have the ones that I was taught are the no-fly boxes of cultish expressions of faith. All of the boxes.

I remember the first time I read a book on contemplative prayer practice that drew parallels to the meditation practices of eastern faiths. I almost closed the book. WE DON’T BELIEVE IN THESE THINGS. And by we, I mean that the brand of religious expression that I was buying at the time. But I began to explore these ideas of stillness and intention and I did’t combust. My next big boulder of struggle was literal biblical understandings, even going so far as to question heaven and hell. What if? What about…? As I began to study, the cardboard walls of my boxes began to soften with the water from my tears. On many days (let’s be honest, late nights) I would take a breath and say in my deepest spaces, ‘I don’t believe that anymore.’ And then I would cry. Sometimes the tears would be a glorious release. Sometimes the tears were from the pain of loneliness. In many seasons, I have felt like I was walking out on a wobbly branch of a forbidden tree, alone and scared.

The number of times that I have admitted that my box was inadequate for my truth is terrifying. If you have not guessed it from the last many days, I’m not sure I even have a box anymore. I have fully embraced that there is not ONE spiritual path that seems genuine for me. However, there is MY spiritual path. And that, dear friends, is very genuine. There is much of this season that is confusing, but there is one thing that is NOT genuine: to stop searching and exploring. Out of fear of doing it wrong or an unclear direction or any other speed bump, the thing that I cannot and will not shake is the journey. I am a spiritual person. I am deeply tied to exploration and question asking. I will never not be able to connect the dots of the Mystery with the revelations of truth in my own existence.

I love the question asking of the Jewish faith. I am obsessed with the deep history of the Orthodox Christian church. I find grace and peace in the openness of the modern Episcopal Church. I am learning and growing from the inner contemplation of the Buddhist faith. I read with great excitement from many spiritual teachers that would quickly tell you they are not religious. And most importantly, I have learned to listen, sit and discern my own truth. This single act of freedom has allowed me to let go of finding the ‘right’ in favor of the ‘best’ or ‘most true.’ If there is one thing that I have embraced in this season it is my full acceptance that the spiritual journey is a deeply personal one. Those that chose to judge or convince or manipulate with fear or threats of pain and judgement are not the ones that I’m here for. There is nothing “genuine” in that kind of spirit quest today.

May we find the holy spaces with genuine searching and learning. We are worth it.

What If: Faith Has Nothing to Do With Doctrinal Purity?

Deconstruction is a popular word that is used in the circle of recovering Evangelical Christianity to explain the process of unpacking old thoughts. My journey of deconstruction began in 2002. It was in a season of absolute desperation and spiritual death that I began to question all of the ways in which I had been taught to look for truth and hope in ways that no longer made since. I didn’t have a box for the reality that I wanted to commit suicide. There was no way to explain the truth that I was pastoring teenagers with the Good News of hope and joy and yet most mornings it was all I could do to get my head off the pillow and face the day.

I built a life that was based on a system of absolutes. The structure that gave me a job and a calling and a purpose was simultaneously feeding my need to cover my truth, deny my doubts and run from the soul spaces that were calling me to look for more. If I admitted that I did not believe in the story of Adam and Eve as a literal creation narrative how in the hell was I supposed to teach original sin – the root of the need for a savior? While to some this sounds like an overblown drama fest, to a person with only one experience of anything faith related, I feared that my entire existence could come unravelled.

Simple math would tell you that this has not been a quick journey. In so many ways, the last almost 2 decades have been quite the roller coaster. There have been moments of big, scary climbs – moments where I thought that the decent from that climb would actually kill me. One of the first biggies that I walked away from was the denominational church system of my childhood. I spent 30 years believing that the best expression of the Body of Christ was that system. And then that reality died. To say that a piece of my soul died with it is an understatement.

I wish I could say that was the hardest death. It only got harder as the stakes got bigger. The dismantling of my understanding of ordination did me in. The moment that I accepted that the work that I was doing was indeed pastoring…mind blowing. When I realized that me not being able to check the box of every profession of faith found in the creeds of the Church and yet that fact did not disqualify me from being a follower of Jesus – I was floored. The first time that I allowed myself to think about the possibility that sexuality was not something that needed moral policing, I was done. Flat out done. This list is not exhaustive, by any means. What I know today is that I am not done.

Here is the thing about deconstruction: it never stops. When you begin to live your life from a posture of leaning in, one of openness and space for new growth, the universe allows your heart and mind and thinking and loving to come from a bigger, more expansive place. In the process, my beliefs about doctrine and theology have changed. I took seminary classes in systematic theology. I still devour texts on historical shifts in church beliefs and makeup. These things are fascinating to me. But the process of deconstruction has wrecked my understanding of pure doctrine in the best possible way. No longer is the list about conforming. My journey is now about exploration. There is no fear in saying that I don’t believe in _______ or I can’t put the Divine in the _________ box.

I fully believed, for DECADES, that by altering my absolutes, by taking certain “fundamental” beliefs off the table, I was committing catastrophic damage to my own faith. Instead, what I found is that the “purity” factor is the lie. The box of believing that without certain certainites it all goes to hell, has been destroyed. I would instead argue that what I have found on the other side is a breath of fresh theological air. At the very essence of the Divine is great mystery, a big questioning mystery. We are not supposed to know and be certain. Certainty and absolute knowledge is the opposite of faith. If we find ourselves in a place where we have it all figured out, if we have all of the answers, we don’t need the Divine.

What If: I Listened to My Own Boundaries

I can honestly say that the biggest gift of this season of unboxing (I’m leaning into this “What If” openness as a big re-birthday party with many new gifts to open) is the ability to listen and trust my own voice. As I discover that I am worthy of listening to, I have been gifted with a precious time of filtering through what I’ve always believed, to find the gift of what is really true for me. With that, I have explored some new boundaries that I believe will carry me into the next season of life.

When reading Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed, she posed the question: What is my boundary? This was one of a series of questions that guided some navigational writing back in March. As I have revisited my thoughts on this, I have landed in a sacred space. I want to stop operating from a place of responsibility to others and begin recognizing the truth that is inside me. I want to believe that the Knowing that I have in my connection to my Creator is enough. I don’t have to water it down or make it digestible to the masses so I can speak truth. My boundary will be my own discontent. When I begin to feel it, I will honor that feeling and ask myself ‘how can I respond so that the world sees ALL that the Divine is teaching me?’

At the core of my love for humanity is a desire and hope that all will be included. I have camped out on this word ‘inclusion’ for years because I thought it was enough to be invited to the room of life. But an invitation or inclusion is insufficient. With our birthright, we are already in the room. Whether we are welcome there by others or not, we are in the room. I have spent much of my life living this out in the Church, continually encountering the keepers of rules and power that have exploited the places of control, only for those that they champion or for groups in common agreement.

“Unity” and “common ground” are scapegoat words in church circles that have been used for generations to quiet those voices that see the facade of inclusion to justify judgement. I was brought up with the themes of love and wanting. We have been told that the story of Jesus is about welcome. At the same time, I have bought the lie that by being open to people of different thoughts and expressions we are loving them well.

The ever burning coals of discontent in my soul are calling for something far from inclusion and unity. Nothing changes if we spend the next generation navigating the waters “carefully”. To really love people and care for those that have been relegated to the margins, we have to call out the perceived truth, as demonstrated by the masses. Seeing only what we long to see, or the “intent” for religious practice is empty because that is not what the world sees. Even from inside the club, I know that The Church is not welcoming. The Church is not affirming. The Church is not inclusive. 

No matter what name we place on the building, to the outside world it is the same judgmental, closed off and hate-spewing entity. Those that have been stabbed by judgement are not exploring the doctrines of individual congregational expressions for safety. If we are lucky, they are still willing to listen to the story of Jesus, but being a part of the instrument of exclusion is not even on the table for the majority of people today. It’s like inviting an alcoholic to come worship at a bar with the expectation that they won’t be burned by the desire to drink. Instead of celebrating the fact that those off put by our barrier building existence are still open to exploring avenues of connection to a Divine source of hope and healing, Christians continue to place on spiritual seekers the judgement of not being “true believers.” 

This is my boundary today. I’m over the cries for rallying around common threads of truth and allowing our welcome to be enough. Today, my boundary has a new wall. I’m here to honor all the big questions. I’m ready to admit to myself that I feel more welcome and acceptance from those that are far from the Church than I do from those that are close to the holy huddle. Setting boundaries are scary. Boundaries change the rules for all the players. But for this girl, the one that is trying to honor herself for a change, I’m listening to my boundaries and it feels life-giving!

(If this post stirs your soul or if you have read Glennon’s book and you want to unpack it with friends, I have a Facebook book club that is still in Part 1. Send me a message if you are interested in joining us!)

What If: The Responsibility for My Spiritual Connection Was On Me?

To begin this post, I need to give a bit of groundwork. The heart of this question came from a conversation that I shared with a friend months ago. We were discussing the framework by which we are finding spiritual connection and the heartbeat of the conversation shifted to our personal responsibility for that journey. The more we talked, the more clearly I began to see the reality of the American Church.

I have accepted the consumer mentality of church attendance for years. I have fought it with all of my church leading ability, but for the past 30 years the pattern of participation in the life of the church has significantly morphed to a ‘what can you do for me?’ mindset. In seasons of personal frustration, I have fought against this current. But years ago, I gave up fighting. I have pressed into personal internal work and trusted that those that were ready for this track would join me, appealing program or not. I have thought less about target audiences and attention seeking models and more about if this is what I need, maybe someone else will see it as valuable. This is great for many, and off-putting for so many others. It is a shift. No longer am I catering to what is convenient. Instead I am focused on calling others to own their own journey.

This does a few things. First, it makes it look like you don’t “care” about people. This is anti-pastoral. Secondly, it can come off as elitist or closed off. I can assure you that is not my intent. Instead, I think asking people to own their own journey is actually quite open. More open, in fact, than anything that I have been a part of in the discipleship journeys or Bible studies of the past. Finally, this shift puts the responsibility on the participant. And guess what? People don’t like responsibility. It is heavy. It demands work. Especially in the spiritual journey. It requires looking for yourself at the things that you cannot embrace or own. When you are no longer spoon fed “truth” or a particular belief system, and instead are forced to decide if you care or value these things at all, the hard choices begin to appear. You have to own it. For yourself. And hot damn, that seems real and true in ways that are anything but consumeristic.

I want to talk to my friends that are sitting on this fence. The ones that know that they don’t fit in the system but just can’t imagine what it looks like to think about owning (really owning) their faith. The ones that do the things because you are supposed to. The ones that answer the questions the way that others want you to because it is just easier than disturbing the calm of status quo. To tell someone that you are changing the way that things have always been done or believed or participated in or accepted is terrifying. Especially when it comes to owning your faith. So much of our system of organization in the Church has pre-determined eternal outcomes and perceived truth. But, I need to let you in on a secret. THAT IS A LIE.

If you own your faith in a way that calls you to walk away,

If you find that you don’t believe what you once did,

If you listen, really listen, and find that your soul tells a different story today,

You will be ok. I am ok. I am here to be a witness, you will live on the other side.

And what if, the story on this side is a more beautiful, free, freeing, melodic, harmonizing, trusting truth than you could have ever dreamed? That’s what owning your spiritual journey looks like. When you find that the handcuffs are removed and you are finally free to reach for the most loving and generous parts of your own soul, you realize that is the very space that Creation and Healing is the most alive.

The single greatest thing that has kept me from this part of my own journey is that I have bought the shame based lies that I was not capable of being trusted. I had deeply embedded belief grooves that held my heart hostage that my “sinful” nature was not able to be barometer of goo. Instead, I needed to rely on the smarter, more studied, more spiritual people to do this heavy lifting for me. My job was simply to digest their truth and to participate in the prescribed path of connection. By doing the correct activities and following the path, I would find soul contentment. Well, guess what? That didn’t happen.

But when I allowed myself to do some guilt free breathing. When I took a long deep, open, full-lung breath of what felt warm and welcome and ME, something happened. I didn’t feel like I was breathing a tank of artificial air. There was no life support needed. Because, I had the capacity to do this all along. My Creator wired me to listen and hear and discern. The very stillness of Sprit that I have possessed from birth was absolutely sufficient. It was my inability to trust myself, my unwillingness to flex the muscles of exploration for fear of non-conformity that paralyzed me all along. I have a new tool kit these days. In includes intention setting, meditation, prayer, listening, study, reading, trusting others to speak Divine inspiration to me and most importantly reflecting on what the Teacher is telling me through listening to my own spirit. This beautiful reconstruction journey is wonderfully mysterious and wildly freeing.

What If: I Can’t Ever Go Back to Church?

I have seen very few of my people over the last two months. Prior to the mid-March Stay at Home order, I would have told you that I am an introvert and really did not need to be around people. For the most part, this season has solidified this feeling. I have confirmed, however, that there is a distinct difference between people and MY people. I need my people. Like water and oxygen, I need my people. After almost 60 days of distance, I saw two of my closest in a socially distanced, no-contact, outside meet up last weekend. We drove in separate cars, met at a time that there wouldn’t be a crowd, collected our own coffee and sat (maybe not all 6′) feet apart while we talked. For hours. It was absolutely glorious. It was so wonderful that I actually had to force myself not to hug them – which, for the record, I’m not sure that I have ever hugged either one – but I did not because you know I’m not a hugger. But, for real, I need my people.

I met both of these friends in the circle of my religious life. I can honestly say that our paths may have not crossed otherwise. On the surface, we have very little in common. But there is a level of honestly that we have established that is safe. We speak to each other with all the passions of f’s and sh’s. We hold tightly to the belief that there is safe space. Even when I don’t think we intend to, we walk into conversations and suddenly find ourselves neck deep in what most consider controversial territory. It’s glorious, but not very churchy. Not very churchy, at all.

As we sat together this weekend, I confessed that I don’t know what to do with my current feelings of apathy about missing weekly gathering times. This led to a fascinating conversation about where we each were pressing into and working to find community. Our paths are very different, but we all come from the since-childhood Church world. Each with our own baggage and view of the value, we come to the table at different places of interest. It is at this point that I need to confess to you, dear reader, that this what if? question is mine. It’s one that I have been wrestling with since the pandemic began. I have never, not one time in my life, not been to church for 10 weeks. I took 4 weeks of maternity leave with child #1. I made it all the way to 6 with kiddo #2. Even when we were between churches, I visited (sometimes multiple) churches every week. And yet, here I find myself.

There is a huge part of my life, schedule and calendar that has been tied to the rhythm of all things church. We choose not to travel for certain holidays, so as not to miss special events. We prioritize the “extra” days because I have always believed that the practices of church activities were vital to my spiritual health. But something happened inside of me during Holy Week 2020. I didn’t not participate because I was not at church. I didn’t forget or even minimize the journey because I was not in charge of things. In all honesty, the opposite happened. I came alive.

I chronicled some of this in my Holy Week posts, especially my Saturday post. I allowed myself to do the things that I needed to do. I was not bogged down with telling the story so others could hear and understand, rather I told the story to my own soul. I gave myself space for quiet. I offered myself grace. It was so honoring.

My girl, Jen Hatmaker, threw down some truth on Facebook on Monday:

“Mostly, quarantine hasn’t created brokenness but exposed it. It has removed all the distractions and shiny parts that have kept us from the truth, from admitting what is real, and from the work.”

@jenhatmaker on Facebook

Thank, Jen. Thanks for calling out my crap right here on the carpet in front of the world and all of the truth tellers. That’s what this season has been. Most days have consisted of a long morning walk, gardening (yep, in my WEED FREE backyard), long writing sessions on the porch and some great conversations. I have talked on the phone WAAAAY more than I ever would. I have called friends that I rarely talk to because I needed MY people. I have trusted my truth and pain to new and old friends. I have searched for the truest of the true because I have been exposed. All of the cover of busyness and schedules were removed and I was forced to get down to business.

I have more to say about what’s next, post-quarantine, but for this question I need to honor myself. So today, I am going to speak to myself like I was speaking to one of my best friends. If they came to me and said, What If? I would say: Rest. Heal. Share. Search. Hope. Dig. Honor. Read all the things that you have been avoiding because of the what if’s. Listen to the voices that speak to you. Turn on music that stirs you to tears. Walk on the seawall at dawn when your soul is tired. Stay up too late and look at the fire. All of these things are Church for you, Lacy. And if, when the time comes, you are finding love and life in other ways, give yourself grace. God is not keeping attendance records.

What If: Our Experience of Church as Children is Actually a Barrier to God?

I can remember sitting in a staff meeting in my early years of vocational ministry when the discussion of the “best time” to connect young-married’s (yep, the whole group is one category) to the church became the topic of the day. The clear call, by all good research and intel was that after the birth of their first child, couples often seek to return to the church to raise their children. Thus, you see entire ministries built from the roots of Baptism and baby dedication classes. Small groups on parenting are launched to receive these wandering young people, who are finding their way back from the wild days of college and early independence. Books have been written, studies have been commissioned and many dollars have spent launching these efforts.

But what about the kids that come along with these wayward young hooligans? Many of them are thrust into nurseries and pre-schools with those that they will one day come to know as their youth group compadres. In the early days of their lives, as their parents long for an hour of free babysitting and a cup of coffee, kids are entrusted to the church world, for better and for worse.

My early years of church life were magical. The wonder of the step stool behind the big pulpit, the flowing choir robes and the secret communion closet were enough to intrigue me and keep me, not only engaged, but fascinated by God and Jesus and the many things that my parents did in the name of church. For me, church meant time with my best friends, the good possibility of a Happy Meal or a Shipley’s donut and an almost certain late bedtime. These things were glorious and holy.

But something shifted the first time that I realized that the man in the black robe was fallible and that church people lied. I remember being asked to sit on a church committee in my early teens and I watched an argument over the church budget. I can still recall the first time that I was listening to a stewardship (aka give your money) sermon and I felt icky. There was something that didn’t sit right in my gut, but because I trusted the person who lead the campaign that year – he was my Sunday school teacher, after all – I thought that I needed to just be more faithful.

There is a strange thing that happens when the grooves of ‘belief’ and ‘right’ and ‘sure’ and ‘godly’ are etched in our childhood impressions of church. Often they are connected to people. Be it the pastor that you loved or the VBS song that you can still sing from memory, we deeply tie our understanding of faith and God with these memories. For many of us, that creates a warm and nurturing first contact with the Divine. But as we age and we see more, we can find ourselves in a deep well of conflict as we discover that things are not always as they appear. The one who taught you about God is not god-like. The idol that you created to defend your faith was just that. The non-negotiable teaching that could never be questioned because it “just was” is suddenly not. And then what?

Some in the church world call this deconstruction – a season of breaking down the things that you have believed so that you can open yourself to the things that you now know to be true. But the more concerning aspect of this entire conversation is not deconstruction or reconstruction. It is not even the marketing that goes into reshaping parents into loving the church again so that they will bring their kids to the programs. For me it is the group of young adults that will not ever darken the doors of a religious institution again because of the experiences, and in some cases, trauma of their childhood in the church. The ones that were manipiatued and spiritually abused. The ones that cannot ask questions. The ones that when they reached an age that they couldn’t make sense of their doubts, were pushed away as heretics and cynics and unworthy.

There is one group of friends that I cannot speak for, but I need to speak to. To my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters: I love you. Jesus loves you. You are whole and holy. Of all of the childhood messages that have destroyed and shamed and held an entire people group hostage, the words that you heard and felt in the pews and the youth groups of your childhood are by far some of the most painful. For every time that you heard that you are not enough, that you are unworthy or that you are uninvited, I want to say I’m sorry. For my part in leading the church to that place and refusing to walk with you and out of spaces that could not love you – all of you – I want you to know that I recognize that I have been part of some of the most damaging childhood messages that you could have ever received. I know that an apology is insufficient, but I’m hoping that my love and friendship is enough to remind you that there is not one entity or person on this earth that has the ability to define your worth. Not me, and sure as hell not the voices of hate in the Church today.

May this be a chance for all of us to call all of the messages that we have be given as children into question. Looking at something with an honest and harsh light does not negate it. Rather, I am more convinced that ever, that a good old household purging only helps you recognize what really matters, and what you want to box up and move with you into your next house.