Step 12 A challenge

Step 12. My name is Katie, I am a recovering evangelical and this one is for you. Yeah, and your friends.

One year and one month ago, I started this journey knowing I needed to understand who I believed God to be, how did that God see me or what did said God expect of me, and what in me needed to change. Did I check all those boxes? Nope. Did the last year change my life regardless? Yep. Do I think you should take a year to examine your faith and spiritual foundation? Hell yes and here is why: I firmly believe that a faith that cannot be examined or questioned or doubted, is not a faith worth having. No matter what religion or denomination within said religion you proscribe to.

But this is scary. Because being raised as an evangelical Christian I felt like I had to have all the answers or at least act like it, and when I didn’t, use the sanctimonious “Sometimes God says yes, no, or wait” or “You just have to have faith that God….” or if you were really daring, “I don’t know,” while really actually having a fool proof belief. And aren’t those really signs?? Consider Jesus who spent so much time asking questions, trying to teach his own disciples to ask questions. And when they did ask questions, Jesus gave super clear and not at all murky answers. Sarcasm… that was… you get it. I don’t have all the answers, but I am asking all the questions.

This is dangerous. As Richard Rohr wrote in his book about Francis of Assisi, Eager to Love, “Perhaps that is why so many religious, formally moral people, do not seem to be attractive or happy to us. To do a moral or virtuous thing however, with the right energy, is what I would call beautiful morality. Yet, it will often be judged by the same kind of people who accused Jesus. This is precisely the vulnerability of the faith position and why it takes the darkness of faith to be faithful. In other words, you must be open to the possibility that you are wrong.” I could be wrong!!! I probably am in practice if not in thought— just ask my husband, kids, siblings, in laws. My theology is shaky at best and a quivering mess at worst. But to put down all the laws and the rituals, that haven’t brought me one stitch of life or actual joy, and to pick up the single plan of loving people as they need it where they are, and by doing so love God, I have begun to feel as though I am actually standing on a firm foundation.

This is challenging. Because it means you sit yourself down and actually begin to ask the questions. The big ones. “If God is love, is there really a hell?” “What about people who have never heard the gospel?” “Why is there pain?” “What the heck are those genocides in the OT about??” “Is God even real?” So much of the Christian life is about escaping pain and the hard things (ex: Come to Jesus, for his burden is light, he gives life, removes death, etc.), but that is counter intuitive because Jesus went toward the hurt. He moved towards pain, towards the broken, towards the really uncomfortable, smelly, scary, dark, difficult, heart breaking stuff of humanity of which he was a part.

But the sincerest reason I recommend examining what you actually believe in the deepest parts of your soul is this: because it changes how you see yourself and the people around you. It moves a person from us/them to we. It changes the immediate response of “Either/or” to “Yes! And…” It removes the focus from saving someone else to working on your own stuff. It changes how we approach people. It changes how we see other religions. It will change how you see yourself. I grew up with a mentality that I have to become so small so that Christ can increase. That I can do nothing apart from God. That everything I do is because of God. But these mentalities really do two things: make God extremely egotistical and the human worthless. But as I have spent time actively working against those thought processes in my brain, I have come to appreciate how far removed they are from the design of life set forth in narrative story in Genesis.

I want to leave this first year long journey with one final point, partially to justify my journey but also to encourage you to join me on it. In Matthew 15 Jesus tells us that he came to save the lost sheep of Israel. This tells me one thing: Those of us that grew up in organized religions, we are probably getting/doing it wrong. And you only have to look at every Reformation or revival to see it happening again and again. Thich Naht Hanh wrote, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.” Examining what you actually believe, what you are mindfully practicing brings us out of the clouds and plants our feet into rich soil.

Music that brought me comfort or joy this month:

Step 11 : It is still pretty murky.

Hi. My name is Katie. I am a recovering Evangelical Christian who is working through her 11th step. Seeking God and God’s will for my life.

As someone who grew up in “Thus Says the Lord” culture, transition is a scary place. Where before I would be in this place of continual waiting and waiting and waiting for God to speak, now I am just waiting until I get my butt in gear. Before I could blame God for not liking their “path for my life,” now I am fully responsible for the choices I make. And that, as I said before for those of you in the back, is scary.

I have moved from the camp of Hyper Spirituality to the camp of Make It Your Ambition (… to lead a quiet life, mind your own business, work with your hands. 1Thess. 4:11). This was a move away from spiritualizing everything and everyone and to a place of letting people be who they are— as if they need my permission. I am working on me, and frankly, I am really coming to love the person I am. This is a miracle in and of itself. The guilt is slowly melting, because I am also giving myself permission to be who I am— as if I needed anybody else’s. And if I learned nothing else this month, this is the will of God for my life.

But I am also transitioning in parenthood. 1.0 is in school and 2.0 soon will be. Who am I apart from my kids? What do I really have to offer the world after 7 years out of the workforce? As you can see, this aspect of myself is still ripe with insecurity.

Who I think God is and how God sees me is transforming. How I look at the Bible and especially how I teach my babies anything from that book. How I interact with people of faith in every religion.

And being purposeful and mindful in these transitions is slow and hard and filled with a lot of doubt. But there is also space for a lot of grace here. For me. For you. For those fanatics. For those who couldn’t care less. And that grace, mixed with just a little bit of hope, is what I am holding on to.

Here is where I am. I am the child that remained at home while the prodigal child went out and did whatever he did. But instead of becoming… remaining resentful and bitter, I take the Father up on his offer. I leave too. And each time I call home, I am greeted with excitement and joy and so many questions.

In so many ways it reflects my journey as a human child as well as a mother. We grow. Physically, yes, but hopefully emotionally and spiritually as well. At some point that means leaving the roost, and if it is a healthy home, hopefully returning and each returning becomes more and more precious. And on the flip side, we have to let our children go and if, IF we are doing something right, they want to come back. There is a change in them each time those chicks return, but that is okay. That is healthy. But as my 1st grader runs to get on the bus every morning, part of me is going with him as I shout out, “I love you!!! You can do hard things!!! Learn all the things!!! Remember, I love you!!” He smiles and waves, and yes I do still tear up sometimes even though we have been doing this for three months now.

A Potter’s House

A potter’s house,
…an earthy place
…clay and water in the air.

A place where sweat is mixed with earth
where hand and eye and wheel are one,
   …and touch, the sense that forms the lump,
…the lump that turns and returns,
as it must.
Notice the hands
that form the pot,
look at them now, and
the centered self…
For pressure
from hands,
move the clay,
and gradually pull out the gift inside.

A potter sees the earth
with artist eyes,
attends the earth
within one’s hands,
loves the earth
and the gifts it gives.

Jeremiah 18:1-6 talks about a potter and I’ve always looked at that Scripture as telling us that a potter can do whatever they want with a pot.  They are in control of the pot.  Maybe that is what it is telling us.  But, when I was writing this, I thought about the story of Adam, and God forming him from the earth.  I thought of my own short experiences with using a potter’s wheel, and of watching others use a wheel, what it must feel like to be on a wheel and to turn and return to the same space only from a shifting spot, till center is found.  I thought about the attention it takes, the work it takes to move and center the clay- getting it to the place it needs to be.  I thought about hands working clay, hands covered in clay…Jesus’ hands.  And in my mind I wandered with a potter and watched him look at earth, and I thought of God, and how much he loves his earth.

Step 9… and 10

My name is still Katie and I am still a recovering evangelical. I have been attempting to work through my 9th and 10th steps, but let’s be real here: this shit is tough.

It has been two months since I posted step 8. I haven’t forgotten, but I have been busy. One child started school the other wanted to be homeschooled, we were sick (thankfully not Covid), harvest… and I am tired. But this was always in the side of my brain. Haunting me. Trying to free me.

Make a list of people you have wronged then go make amends. I am 35 years old, I know I have hurt, offended, and wronged many people. But the one person I kept trying to ignore, to get to those truly wounded people, was myself. I am truly wounded. Do we allow ourselves the time and space to examine our own wounds? What a mind-f&€k. That being said, if I have hurt you and have yet to make amends, I need to know so that I can do so and would appreciate a pm to begin the process. Because that is the truth here, forgiveness is a process. A day after day beginning again process.

So why was I ignoring myself? I am frustrated and hurt over my past self. This is my open letter to myself, an attempt to make amends and heal the person I am becoming out of the person I was.

Dear Me, You have grown so much and I am in awe of the you that you are. But you have done that in spite of my best efforts, because I have hindered you. When you had that small bell going off in your head, I silenced you by accepting the easy answers. When you were presented with uncomfortable circumstances, I responded with things that you never even believed deep down. I spoke badly of you instead of encouraging you. I allowed you to be less than because I was told you were. And when you experienced tough emotions, I told you to keep them bottled up.

Part of it was self preservation. Part of it was willful indoctrination. Part of it was a hunger to fit into a community that didn’t want me as I was. Or maybe I was too scared to show myself and defend myself as I was. Most of it was that I didn’t know how.

I didn’t know how to be you. To be free— as in actual freedom. Not that “freedom by way of subjugation” that was floating around masked as a sacred assembly. I didn’t know how to step into the strength that was in me. I didn’t know how to think critically outside of the prescribed theology. I was scared and wanted so desperately to belong.

I am so sorry I didn’t trust you more.

I am sorry I didn’t stand up for us more.

I am sorry I tried to squeeze us into that cookie cutter when it was obvious that I didn’t fit.

I am sorry I didn’t recognize or believe in your inherent worth.

I am sorry that I didn’t break those destructive patterns sooner.

You deserved better and I am actively working to be better… to be kind with you. Gentle and loving with you. Vulnerable with you. And honest with you.

With so much love and appreciation, ~Me

Growing up isn’t easy. Growing up and craving to belong to a gathering while always feeling like my nose is stuck to the outside of the glass window left me willing to do just about anything. But those are just excuses.

I am not on the outside. But I am also not on the inside either. I am happily walking down the street. Because what I have begun to see is that the spirit of God is in you and it is in me. Yes, you. Yes, me. I have been listening to Richard Rohr read “The Art of Letting Go,” and in it he describes that it may in fact be beneficial to stop using the term ‘God’ for 50 years. 50 whole years of no one using ‘God,’ and instead use the moniker ‘the Holy Mystery.’

I didn’t recognize this otherness as a part of myself until I became a parent. Before it was an in dwelling of the Holy Spirit that could only happen as a result of laying on of hands…. Which now makes me feel very uncomfortable. But each time I held my babies and stared into their beautiful eyes, I knew I was holding more than just flesh and bones, I was holding the ever continuing breath of this Holy Mystery.

I wish I had been kinder to myself and others when I was younger. I wish I exhibited more patience with my kids yesterday. This is by no means a case of “Hey, Katie has got life down pat! Look at how great she is doing!” Hell. No. But this does mean my eyes are continually catching more and more glimpses of myself fully alive and that in turn reveals another aspect to this great and glorious Mystery.

“The glory of God is man fully alive.” ~ credit given to St. Irenaeus

Songs that I have on repeat:

Opening Up

The other day, The boys and I stepped out on to the deck to leave the house for a bit. They were fully clothed (miraculous, I know), I had my keys, wallet AND phone, we were ready. I am out the door first and I see, sitting just to the rear drivers side of the car, a bunny. Yep, there was Bugs just nibbling on the clover. So I paused and let both kids pass me on the stairs. I watched as the rabbit turned into granite as the kids hit the bottom step.

So I whispered, “Hey, guys, come back up here I want to show you something.”

And in that moment, as both boys stomped their way back up the steps, I knew that there were only a couple of realistic outcomes, I mean I have a six and four year old, you could list the viable options for me. But they reached the top step, saw the rabbit and the two opposing, possible outcomes occurred together as time slowed down.

Vulnerability is a scary, opening, brave opportunity we give ourselves. We invite a person into this space we have prepared both physically and mentally where we are giving them insight into what is important to us. That is a powerful gift, one that we give to ourselves and to others.

My six year old went quiet and watched. The 4 year old shouted, “I will chase it away!” Aaaand he took off down the stairs. These are common reactions when we invite people into our safe spaces. Some will sit, grateful with wonder. Others will run and chase the wonder away, unable to sit in the moment.

Being vulnerable, in this moment, didn’t cost me much, honestly I was expecting both boys to chase the rabbit away. If anything, the rabbit was really the vulnerable one that shared the moment with us. Sometimes vulnerability is inviting a child to come see a rabbit, hoping that they embrace the quiet beauty of the moment with you. Other times, it is daring to nibble on clover while maintaining eye contact with a creature much larger than ourselves.

And there are large, intimidating creatures out there that are continually staring us down. But can we feed ourselves if we don’t acknowledge we are hungry?? We are starving to be known and there is no security in baring parts of ourselves, even to people we trust—in fact that can be even scarier, but on the flip side, there isn’t any true security in our silence either. If we are not willing to be so beautifully brave, we will simply fade more and more from lack of simple, open connection. I want more for me than that. I want more for you.

This all sounds fluffy. But it really is hard to feed ourselves the connection of openness when we are sore, battered, bruised, traumatized by a society of make believe perfection and hard core judgement. Vulnerability is freaking hard and scary. Talking about miscarriage. Or spousal abuse— physical OR emotional, being fired from work, topics of shame or fear. These are hard things, but I think vulnerability just might be the food that helps us realize we are not alone.