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 Was Not Afraid to be Myself?

I’m 45 freaking years old. WHHHYYYYY is this still a question that I struggle with? You would think that with the internal excavation that I have done in my adulthood that I would have wrapped my mind around the fact that not only will everyone not like me, but I really don’t want them to. And here’s the real, true deal. I really don’t care about most of the big judge-y world. But there are some. The treasured few, that I allow to really know me. Within these precious relationships, I have found acceptance and love. I feel known and heard. I am challenged and pushed…until I balk. Until the moment comes that I feel that icky if they really knew me shiver come over my soul. I hate that damn shiver.

I know that the perception of my very out-there living life is one of truth telling. The danger with being someone that is regularly called “brave” or “open” or worse yet “vulnerable” is that I begin to believe that the stories that I tell and the writings that I offer are those things. And sure, I talk about things that most people would like to keep on the eternal down-low, but that’s just me. Talk about personality shortcomings, no problem. Talk about addiction and recovery, no biggie. Mental health? I’m totally down. I can tell all of these tales of life journeys with head knowledge and my beautiful rearview 20/20 vision. I’m all in. Until the shift happens. You know the shift?

When we move from head to heart, from facts to emotions, I don’t want you anywhere near me. I don’t want you to know that there are large chunks of my junk that I don’t want to tackle. I don’t want to admit that mastery is never going to happen in my world of real living. At the very core of fear is a very hot burning fire of doubt that you will ever believe, or trust, or even like me if you reallllly know me. If you could see the ways that I behave, if you knew the gaping holes of shame and insufficiency, you would see right through my tough exterior directly into the wounds that are still festered and infected with unhealed disease.

I have spent the last few weeks examining the next layer of healing that needs to happen in my journey of life. One of the things that I know to be the truest of true, when it comes to my own thriving, is my need to not keep a secret. There is nothing that will bore holes in my spiritual existence like the knowledge that I have done, that I know or that I am thinking about an idea in a way that I believe no one knows or will find out. Having the ability to deceive, or even the embedded lie in my head that I have the world fooled, is a dangerous and destructive path.

Let’s lay these realities down next to each other. I am not in a good space when I have secrets AND I don’t trust that you will still love me if you really know me. This is a recipe for constant chaos. There is a wicked dance of reveal…retreat…share a bit more…see if they run…give them a big one…prepare for rejection. This mental gymnastics meet has kept me on the sidelines of full honestly for so long. There are the life defining stories that feel vulnerable but are actually quite public. And then there are the ones that I still don’t have a resolution for, the ones that make me feel weak and unsure of survival. These are the secrets that still haunt me. They threaten sanity, sobriety, calm and serenity.

What I know about secrets is they multiply like gremlins. In a mind like mine, light and water are similar to partial truths or only sharing the parts of my life that I believe you will not judge me for. These choices for false vulnerability are the very tasty appetizers for my diseased soul. So what is the cure? How do I walk into these spaces with the hope that I can be loved? I do it one tiny step at a time. One minuscule risk in safe space for the sake of healing. There are absolutely unsafe spaces. There are untrustworthy receptacles of our love and hearts and hurts and pasts. But there are also those who not only want to walk with us, but they need us to risk so that they can risk. There is a beautiful, sacred gift when your vulnerability is met with not only love and acceptance but an equal revelation of pain and hurt. I don’t think it is an overstatement to call these moments divinely inspired. I certainly believe that my dumb decisions and moments of pain that are received in a gift of connection and trust can only be described as holy. To my treasured hope holders, you know me and love me. You give me faith in myself. You are a gift.

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 Always Feel Afraid?

I promised myself at the beginning of this 50 day journey that if I reached a day that I could not write, I would give myself grace. I typically schedule my daily post to publish at 10am. It is currently 9:12am and I have exactly 2 1/2 sentences on the page. Why? Because I am living in the midst of a fear storm. If you are a person who does not fall prey to a soul flattening kind of fear, well, in the most loving way I can say this, fuck you.

What does fear look like for me? It is an all encompassing. It starts with a thought that deviates from the norm. Oh, “normal” is a lovely place. It has a warm, status quo where by the shallow water of life’s undercurrent has no waves. It lulls you to believe that you are safe. It rocks you with tiny, gentle swaying that allows you to believe that a simple, almost stillness is the perceived goal. For some, this may be the final destination. Remaining in the shallow is life giving for them. The wonder of the deep is not interesting. For most that hold this worldview, the deep is unnecessary. Why would you even look for more when you are safe? But I hate the kiddie pool. I’m one of those people that knows that the warmth of safety is actually the pee that heats the water. I hate that warmth. It is actually everything I hate. All of it. I would rather jump into the scary deep, the water with all the undertow, with the Great Whites or off the 10M platform than sit safely in the shallow.

Why? The number of times that I have had this question posed to me in life is beyond my ability to count. Why would you disturb the safe? Why would you need to change this? Why are you “messing with” a good thing? Because I cannot do anything but the guttiest of the gut level today, I only know my truth. I do these things because safe is not living for me. Risk is where the reward is found. Questioning is where the best version of me is unearthed. Jumping in, even on the days when I don’t know if I can swim or float or even tread water is the only thing that gives me life. It is the single greatest fear inducing reality of my life.

In case you can’t tell, the ‘What If’s’ are wrecking me. Most days this is a great thing. Most days, I am brave and untamed and stalking the peripheries of life with a confidence and passion. But, some days. Days when I think I may have ventured into the deepest deep, I find that I’m making camp with all of the fears. There was no way I could write this journey without a few days like today. I will always have fear. Fear is the pulse of a person that is alive. Fear is the reminder that we are not in charge. Fear is the only reason that I am forced to take a deep breath and jump. I need the fear. I hate the fear. But the choice is to die inside, so LET’S GO!

(If you made it to the end of this post and there is something inside of you that feels the need to “check on me,” don’t worry. I don’t write for attention. I don’t write as a smoke signal for help. I write to remind myself (and others that are on the same page) that I am alive. My deep diving is exactly what I was created to do, but that doesn’t mean it is easy.)

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 Love God But Cannot Find a Reason to Walk in the Doors of the Church?

The honestly of this question is haunting. Again, the poles of love and hate are desperately disconnected in my response to seeing it on my screen. I want to hug this person and slap the Church all in the same beat of my heart. My posture in interacting with questions like these is especially tender because I can hear the pain behind this searching.

I received two questions that on the surface seem to be the same thing, but I can hear the slight difference. I am going to answer them back to back. This one comes from the voice of the outsider. One who’s experience of religion is defined by watching others. Not only have they not been immersed in the culture, but they have intentionally avoided wading into what they see as dangerous and unnecessary waters. Tomorrow, I will tackle the other, but today, I want to speak to the ones that have never wanted to know what it looks like to explore spirituality in community.

I need to say something to my friends that are open to Spirit and have never been saddled by the confines of religious expressions: I am sooooo thankful for you. That is probably one of the most insufficiently expressed statements I have ever made. Thankful is wildly inadequate. But you need to know why you are not only needed in my life, but vitally necessary to those of us that have not known searching without the walls of pre-programmed thought. You are needed oxygen. You are the calm in the midst of the storms of doubt. You are the gift of freedom that I didn’t know I was missing in my spiritual life. To talk to those who come at the practices of soul tending with the freedom to shamelessly explore is a beautiful gift to those of us that have been told how and when to think and study.

Years ago, I went to California on a spiritual quest of sorts. During my days away, I stayed at a retreat center that was filled with students and teachers of many disciplines. I was in awe of the freedom to encounter God in art, yoga, food, conversation, prayer and silence. I was challenged to think outside of my ideas of “retreating” and connection. It was one of the first times that I had allowed myself to label something so seemingly un-Christian as spiritual. It has taken me a lifetime to open myself up to the possibility that perhaps we (the only religious tribe I have ever belonged to) don’t have all of the answers. This is blasphemous to my previous channels of thought. This reality has emerged from my intentional welcome of those that are excited to learn about the Divine without the trappings of religion.

It is important for me to say these things so that you understand that my answer to this question is based in my love for, friendship with and deep concern for those that have allowed me to see their spiritually curious spaces. Without this gift of invitation, I could not say what I’m about to say. What if I love God but cannot find a reason to walk in the doors of the Church? Then don’t. Please don’t. With all of the love that I have in my heart for your curious and questioning self, hear me out. If you don’t think that the Church will bring life to your soul, it is not for you. If you don’t think that your best version of spiritual community is waiting for you in the Church, keep looking. If you have not experienced a welcome and openness that feels like a breath of fresh air, the Church is not the place for you.

For many, religious or not, the expectation is that answers and truth are found in churches. For some, that is the case. There are people worldwide that have sought and found thriving spiritual community in the Church. But this question says so much. The wording is not lost on me. This seeker has an established love of the Creator. There is connection to a Higher Power that is thriving and hopeful. That is more than I can say for many people that find themselves lost in their soul, yet sitting on the pews of churches today.

As I tend to do, let me see if there is a different question that might be more beneficial in this scenario. What if: thriving spiritual community can be found outside the walls of the church? It can. It does. It will. But I want to say one thing very clearly. Spiritual community is necessary. Walking alongside people that push you to see new growth and long for connection is one of life’s greatest blessings. Having others that know your story and heart is not only soul feeding, it is what draws you to know more fully all that you are created to be. I would not be who I am without those that have stood beside me, especially in times of spiritual homelessness. Rather than feeling regretful or guilty about not wanting to go to church, what if instead, the focus turned to intentional community. Perhaps it is a friend that you commit to read with? Maybe it is group that you know values the same hope that you seek? May we be willing to see how community and connection are being offered all around us and in those moments, may we recognize that THOSE are the doors that we need to walk through.

What If: The “Rules” of Church are Outdated?

This question is a loaded bomb. I love it and I hate it all at the same time. Like so many other things in the world of the Christian Church, there are many layers to the “rules” that people associate with the Church. For the sake of giggles and conversation, I did an interesting experiment: Google. Literally, I searched for the rules of the Christian Church. I wanted to vomit. Instantaneously. All of these things were listed in articles and writings on the rules:

  • Never allow someone to embarrass your morality, your essence, your innocence.
  • A man has the right to lead his woman in life.
  • Look casual and modest but attractive enough.
  • To come to church you should wear clean and appropriate clothing, as required by the holiness of the place. Women should exercise Christian modesty and decency.
  • To derive spiritual profit from going to church, it is very important to put yourself into a prayerful mood on the way to church.
  • Read your Bible daily.
  • Be a wholesome Christian. Our lives and appearance should commend the Gospel and make it attractive to others.

What I want to do at this point is give you a sarcastic commentary on all of the above. It is actually taking all of my restraint not to be a complete jerk, cause you know I could. Let’s try and talk about this without the attitude. Of course, people that think in terms of rules and black and white-ly defined circles will always fall on the more extreme ends of this conversation. But, can we just be really honest? These rules exist because these people exist. Even in some very openminded, thinking and searching spaces, you will find these rules. People with this approach to faith can be found in most Christian circles today. The core of these rules are valuable to many modern Christians and that single fact is the reason that so many of us look at the Church today with, on our best days, irreverence and on our worst days, disdain.

The saddest part of this entire conversation is that the rules, the tools by which the Church would like to help define people of faith, are the very things that push people away from the possibility of connection. In my years of stumbling around the heart of the Church, I have found the ability (or maybe I should say stubbornness) to ignore most of the rhetoric. I have worked hard to define for myself ways to hear the words to the rules and reshape them to fit the heart of the God that I understand. Let me give you an example.

Most of us that were brought up in the last 30 years of Church culture have been taught to believe that the tangled web of purity and chastity are some of the most tightly held rules of the Church.

“Purity culture” is the term often used for the evangelical movement that attempts to promote a biblical view of purity (1 Thess. 4:3-8) by discouraging dating and promoting virginity before marriage, often through the use of tools such as purity pledges, symbols such as purity rings, and events such as purity balls.”

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/faqs-know-purity-culture/

Not only did I come of age at the beginning of the purity culture, with so many confusing and convoluted messages, but I was a youth pastor in the height of the movement. To say that every area of my faith was impacted by the rules of sexual behavior is an absolute understatement. I wore the ring. I grieved the mistakes. I tried to define “good” and “boundaries” to gain approval from a rule imposing God. I drank the Kool-aid. What happened over the last 30 years of my life is an excavation project of the soul. As I began to look at the bizarre (and ridiculous) tools by which we tried to teach love and fulfillment, I have come to understand that we failed. In every way.

But, here is the interesting thing about purity culture. It did not come into existence in a vacuum. Like every other “rule” of the church, it was a reaction to something that no one knew how to put in a box. In the 90’s, the children of the 60’s came of age. For many of our parents, finding a way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and protect us from the AIDS epidemic somehow morphed into a bizarre attempt to develop rules to ground a “biblical” understanding of sexuality. Do you remember our conversation about the mess that we make of the church? Yep. Exhibit A.

So, are the rules outdated? I’m not sure that’s the right question. I think the better question is What If: The Church Didn’t Have Rules? I think human rules are some of the greatest mistakes of the modern church. What if rather than making rules and trying to tell people how and what to do, we used that energy to listen – to people and more importantly to the Spirit? Behind the rules are always attempts to avoid pain, misguided as they may be. I wonder what would change if instead of telling others how to do things or how to be, we instead placed before them the desired end goal? Instead of giving me rules and shame to define sexuality, what would have happened if a trusted adult had instead said, “Lacy, I want you to be whole. I want every part of you, even your physical body to be deeply connected to the heartbeat of God. What feels whole to you?”

I’m guessing I would have spent much less on therapy. Just saying.

What If: Everyone Who “Speaks” to Me is Labeled a Heretic by the Church?

Eighteen years ago, I sat in the main hall at the National Youth Worker’s Convention and was introduced to a pastor that would dramatically change the trajectory of my ministry and life. He was engaging. He was interesting. He was talking about our roots, and calling us to look deeper at the text. He had black rimmed glasses and wore skinny jeans before the fad was cool for men. He was so intriguing. The following year, I decided to take an intensive course from him at NYWC and I sat for 8+ hours listening to him undo much of what I knew to be the ‘gospel’ of church work. He talked about sabbath and boundaries and authenticity. He confessed to doubt and disgust. This was unheard of in my church world. I found a CD of this talk yesterday, and as I listened again I was reminded of the weight of these words in my life. The following day, he was a main stage speaker and he engaged the hearts of thousands with a teaching on the ancient Jewish prayer shawl. He talked about the beauty and necessity of going to that quiet place and the sacred gift of being honest with God. He promised us that God could handle anything we had to say.

Right on the convention room floor, I crawled to my hands and knees, put my face on my chair and wept. I’m sure that Lucas (who was attending with me that year) was terrified at the puddle of emotions that were oozing from my 2’x2’ folded body. There in that space, I was pastored and challenged. I followed and listened and devoured anything that came from a church named Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI. I used his Nooma videos to teach and lead students and adults. I could not get enough of his work because this was an expression of faith unlike anything that I had ever heard.

And then something transformational took place. He wrote a book. About faith. And called it Velvet Elvis. That should say so much about this guy. It was clear that he did not speak in the language known to be safe and Jesus-y. I loved every word. To this day, I have multiple copies on my bookshelf at anytime to hand out to those wanting to ask questions. This book release coincided with a season in my own ministry that I knew I was being called out of my current understanding of church culture. What I was comfortable with was just that, comfortable. And in this season, I left full-time vocational ministry for the uncomfortable world of listening. I didn’t know that in the decision to step away from traditional church life I was entering a season of study and challenge and babies and church planting and personal bankruptcy and a call to return to wholeness.

One of the most consistent voices of Jesus and bigger love and audacious grace in my life has been Rob Bell. I have seen him speak at night clubs and concert halls. Lucas and I took his grandparents to hear him speak in a historic theatre in San Antonio. I have traveled to southern California to sit with him for 2 days and smell the ocean as he moved his ministry from the local church to a global speaking ministry. I spent a weekend in northern California sharing space and hearing stories. Whenever I have the opportunity to introduce people to his work, I drag them with me to watch and listen and think.

He has released books that have met me at my points of pain (Sex God and Jesus Wants to Save Christians) and he ushers me into the sacred gift of creativity in faith. He pushes me as a teacher and thinker, with What is the Bible?. He was lifted high as a leader in the modern church and then destroyed by the Christian machine for introducing topics and conversations that were seen as threatening. Rob is openly labeled a heretic. To his face, to his followers and to the world (heck there is even a documentary by that name) the establishment responds with hate and venom because he chooses to use words and remove labels and ask questions. The very things that drew me to him were the weapons that others used to call his thinking into question. Rob was just the first. In some ways he ripped off the bandaid of bigger thinking. Since then I have a list of honest, messy, glorious leaders that have pushed me out of the box and into growth.

Here is what I have to say about this question. What is the fruit of your heretic? When you look at the people that you are listening to and walking with and sharing the table alongside, do you see good, life-giving, loving, whole fruit? In my darkest, most scared and vulnerable places, it has been the voices of Rachel and Nadia and Jeff and Pete and Jen and Glennon and Jonathan and Mike so many others that have held space for me. This list is far from complete, but these are my ride-or-dies. They have introduced me to new spiritual practices, both ancient and modern. They have woven together pieces of my fledgling faith and taught that it is ok to love God and doubt, all at the same time. They have unpacked ancient truths and emphasized recovery, mental health, self-care, full inclusion, passionate love and stillness. Their work and lives have been there for me in ways that were life support to my dying faith. I am but one life that has been forever changed because of their powerful and unafraid work. Their fruit? It is good, good fruit. And if that is heresy, I’m going down on that ship. Every. Damn. Day.