Monthly Archives: August 2013

Living the Tension

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My last post Goodbye Church, Hello God received the most traffic of any of my blog posts. As the day went on and I watched the stats climb, I read through many helpful replies, and then I started to panic.

While many of the notes sent to me were encouraging, I know my audience is diverse. I thought of all my colleagues that I had worked alongside to help grow the church for the past ten years. I thought of the confirmation and youth group kids I have encouraged in their commitment to Christian community. I thought of my family, my deep Lutheran roots, all those Lutheran pastors who tended the vines on the tree on which I bloom.  And then one ordained Lutheran pastor sent me a note that has continued to gnaw at me.

Let me first say this is what I love about the church: it’s one of the few places where people engage with all of the living generations. At my former parish we gathered for the Eucharist in the round, all of us came together with our different perspectives to receive nourishment. I love the living saints, those who love to give, those who serve, those who listen, those who love, those who pray, those that journey with friends and family through the valley of the shadow of death, those who can find the words that need to be said, those who know how to let silence speak. I could go on. The church is not perfect, but neither is it too broken to let God in the cracks.

Here is a part of the note: “Unfortunately, the church of the Holy Comforter isn’t offering the Divine this morning, only more helpings of self service. Sorry for your struggle, Jess, but when Xers and Millennials continue to shop around looking for just the right church that fits their agenda, they end up with the Comforter Church. If I had a nickel for every one that has offered up your thoughts, I’d be a rich man. I am not saying this to discredit your search, nor your frustrations, but while Yoga offers very good things to body and soul, it does not offer the sacrament nor absolution.”

A lot has been said already on the tensions between the Traditionalists, the Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials.  As an Xer I have spent most of my life alone in the church.   My colleagues and church community were composed of people mostly my parents’ age or older.  I kept hearing how the church wanted my generation in church, but then as one of the few there, I was rarely asked why I was there and why so few of my friends were not.  It seemed to me that the overall values that the church held onto reflected those of the Traditionalists and Boomers:  loyalty, social order, conflict avoidance, and a workaholic professional life. With much of my generation missing from the church, in my experience as a young woman it’s been difficult to find my place and voice among my parent’s generation.

I often shared this wisdom from Frederick Buechner with my confirmation students: Search for that place where your great joy meets the world’s deep need, then you will be on your way to discovering what you are created to do and be in this world.  I loved sharing this with people because I believe that when we work out of our gifts we avoid burnout.  We actually get energy from what we do.  (And I have witnessed a lot of burned out folks in the church.)  When Traditionalists and Boomers hold values of loyalty and duty above all, they can miss the joy that comes with discerning gifts and exploring creative ways to be church.  I don’t think this discernment process is selfish. Rather, it is a practice of caring for self that honors and helps us discover how we are created to thrive in God’s image.  

After ten years of ministry, I felt that I was unable to be the change the church needed.  I assessed my gifts and found myself lacking in many areas, especially political savvy and boundaries (see how I over share on my blog all the time??).  After serving on the COM for many years and working with our bishop, it seems the church is looking to raise up CEOs and highly organized managers.  And I am an artist who loves working in the chaos.    And so I’m searching… (God I hate to quote Michael W. Smith, but this song still makes me cry) I’m still searching for my place in this world.  Maybe it’s in the pews.  Maybe it’s beyond the church walls.  I just don’t know yet.  But I just love what one new twitter friend said to me:  May God’s will be done in heaven as well as in the yoga studio.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the generation gaps and about your struggles and triumphs in finding a spiritual community of your own.

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Filed under american society, christianity, church, culture, episcopal, religion, spirituality

Goodbye Church, Hello God

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My husband and I sat with hands on our forehead, bleary-eyed in front of our computer screens late Saturday night googling local churches to attend the next morning. The house was freshly out of boxes (that mostly I unpacked) as my husband blitzed through a week of orientation to his new job as an Assistant Professor of Religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

“Does anyone have child care?” I bemoaned.

“Yes, this conservative one does,” My husband smirked. “Look how big it is!”

I stared at the picture of 50 somethings holding microphones and guitars and felt my stomach turn sour.

“Why are the churches with black and white answers so big?”

“And this LGBT friendly one apparently just sold their building to pay off their debts.”

“Look! The cute Episcopal church in town says it invites children to worship and welcomes hearing them make joyful noises.”

“That just means the small congregation will stare at the new folks while we juggle our three kids.”

I started digging deeper and reading church minutes. “This one is still arguing about the gay issue every week. They have unanimously decided not to allow same sex blessings.”

“Look at the coming attractions on this page!” Husband, David giggled as he saw my blank screen.

My favorite was the church that posted new comer pictures and bios and gave a shout out to the techies because the young families found them on a google search.

After nearly an hour of searching, the two of us buckled over laughing at the absurdities, at the suddenly tenable thought that we might never find a church where we belong.

“Jess–we’re not really church type folks,” David’s eyes sparkled and suddenly I wanted to cry. Because I really wanted to be a church type folk. I felt called after seminary to help reinvigorate the church. Something big happened to me in college: I experienced the love of God when I was in a seriously bad place and I thought, “It’s real! It’s so cheesy, but God is real and God is really full of love!” And so I spent my college years studying religion, philosophy and psychology, I went to seminary and I worked for ten years in the Episcopal church in the Chicago area trying to share God’s love and my love with children and youth.

Some people call this new phase “burn out” but I’m not in a spiritual crisis. I wonder if I am called to leave the church (after a few years of wondering if I wanted to pursue ordination). I share many of the same complaints as the Millennial’s and the None’s: I can’t stand the politics either–yes money does matter. Yes, there are power and turf struggles. Yes, some people won’t change. Yes, even jerks go to church and don’t know how to love and don’t want to learn how. And it’s especially hard when you catch a glimpse of the underbelly and the under-the-mask realities that seem bigger than Jonah’s whale. And because Christians (and politicians) prefer to play “nice” the healthy conflict that is necessary for growth is often avoided. But that’s not my main source of angst (I know these are not merely church issues, but life issues).

Truth be told: church stopped being a place I could easily connect with God. There was another place that was helping me doing that so much better. And that place was the yoga studio.

I began to realize that my body always felt sick on Sunday mornings. It was as if a woman’s body–my body–wasn’t fully welcome. I worshiped from the head up. I tried to transform all the masculine, roman, patriarchal, warrior, language in my head. It was enough to slay me in the spirit or make my eyes spin causing me to look demon possessed (which was a real job hazard). I worked to compartmentalize and transcend all the messiness of my life in some far away forgotten place often labeled Forgiveness Land so I could find the crystal clear answers and the Perfect God.

In my yoga practice I began to accept the difficulties and honest complexities of where I am at as a human being. And where I am at is always one place: I am in my body. And in order to be fully embodied requires the tending of old wounds, deep fears, and for me, sexual healing from past abuses. And these are things that the church has been unable to help me with. (Let’s be fair, the church has only had a relatively small amount of time in the last 2,000 years to incorporate women’s perspectives on God into our own language and symbols for great advances to make their way into corporate worship.)

Advent and Christmas seasons celebrate that Christ is born in the flesh. And not just of the flesh, but in our own flesh God is born. We all are called to bear God (the many faces and gifts of God–even the feminine form of God). And in order for me to do that better I have to continue to practice being present in each moment and learn to live fully in my body, in all the suffering and all the joy. I need my whole body to worship.

Last Sunday we happily attended The Church of the Holy Comforter and slept in. It was a true spiritual experience.

I start my yoga teacher certification program in a few weeks. I am looking forward to creating new liturgies, divine music and sacred spaces for God to dwell with us and more fully in us.

And we’ll keep looking for a church where we can find a community to grow with (don’t worry Grandma!).

The Divine in me greets and honors the Divine in you.

Namaste

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Filed under american society, christianity, church, culture, episcopal, feminism, philosophy, religion, spirituality, youth ministry

My New Music Video, Peace Before Us

In dedication to CHS, the 5 o’clock service and the Youth Group

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August 10, 2013 · 8:38 pm