Not This

How many of you stayed in something too long, and looking back you can see the actual time it became too long? There was the time when it was time to go but you held on because it was known, it was safe, there was a pay cheque, you were afraid, and it’s when you stayed after that time the thing went bad on you.

There are seasons in life, and when aseason ends, it’s OK.

Something can be good, and it’s OK to end it while it is still good.

There are rhythms and cycles in life, in nature. Day moves into night, winter moves into spring, childhood moves into adulthood. In our modern lives we have become more and more disconnected from the natural rhythms of nature and at the same time seem to have lost the ability to know when one season in life has come to a natural end. Perhaps it’s time to rediscover the power of cycles and seasons. This thing was great, and now it’s done! It’s not done because someone lied or cheated, it’s done because it’s done.

Sometimes we get the sense something is ending without knowing why. We get the sense something is dying and the only reason its dying is because there’s some new thing that wants to be birthed. The temptation is to panic, put the brakes on, become numb to it, rather than let it die, grieve it, and move on.

Sometimes we know something is ending but we say I’ll let it end when I know what the next thing is. We want to leap straight from one stepping stone to next without getting our feet wet. We have a sense it is time to move on, and we even know the direction we need to move in, but we stay because we want to know the details. It’s like we are afraid to trust, afraid that we are misguided, afraid that without the affirmation of others we will make some terrible mistake. But take away the risk and we take away the energy that sustains us and all the things that shape us.

Some of you will be in a situation where all the energy around it is instructing you that it has ended, but you can’t leave because you don’t know what the next thing is. There is an incredible power in the two words not this. Those two words are enough to know that it’s time to leave.

  • What are you going to do now? I don’t know, but not this.
  • Where are you going to go now? I don’t know but not this.
  • Where are you going to live? Not this place.
  • What church are you going to? Not this church.
  • What job are you going to do? Not this job.
  • Who is your partner going to be? Not this partner.

Don’t ignore those two words. Not this is enough. If you ignore not this your soul will become appalled.

If you wake up every day and everything around you says not this, but you say I must because, then your soul will become appalled and you are going to start breaking. Your soul will find ways of telling you. Maybe though sickness, maybe through exhaustion, maybe through anxiety, but your soul will find a way to tell you that you cannot do another day.

So, don’t wait until you know what the next thing is. If everything is crying out not this, just go. Just throw a rope over the wall and rescue yourself out of there. Don’t let it get to the point where your soul is appalled. There are some places where it’s better to walk away with nothing than to stay there.

Credit where credit is due

This post is heavily inspired by a Rob Bell podcast featuring Elizabeth Gilbert. You can hear the whole thing at: https://robbell.podbean.com/e/live-at-largo-with-elizabeth-gilbert-part-2/

Is the church founded on fear?

I was recently asked why people in churches would feel fearful in a community that is supposed to be about love.

I can only speak from my own experiences of church, and for the most part these have been positive. I have experienced much love and acceptance in the church and have tried to return this. John the Evangelist wrote, ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment’. I think it is true that where love is complete there is no fear; of rejection, of not coming up to the standard, of being different etc. When someone loves you to this extent it really is liberating. Ultimately this is what I believe about God and also about what faith communities should embody: love and acceptance of all, valuing and nurturing the divine in everyone, no matter where they are in their understanding of faith, and irrespective of gender, race, sexuality etc.

So why is there often an underlying fear to faith?

I think within any community there is a natural fear of ‘difference’ and an inclination over time for communities to become more conservative i.e. preserving the community becomes more and more important. We naturally feel safer with those who agree with us and I think it would be very difficult to eliminate this from the church completely. However there does seem to be an issue with fear especially in more fundamentalist and evangelical contexts. I suspect this is down to a belief in a literal hell, and the understanding of ‘salvation’ as an acceptance of (or submission to) a set of beliefs. This leads to ultimate authority given to those who can correctly interpret the Bible and mediate the ‘correct’ truth, and a suspicion of those who question or doubt these interpretations. In this understanding, those who challenge the ‘correct’ truth are to be feared because they are literally jeopardising the eternal future of others in the community.

However I feel this is more of a justification rather than the actual reason. Belief in hell is a little too abstract for most people for it to govern their everyday behaviour. A less abstract proxy is that questioning of ‘correct’ beliefs is threatening to the power structures within the organisation. Leaders have been assigned the responsibility and accountability for correct belief and practice; for the rest their responsibility is to submit to this authority. If belonging is based on believing the right things, and the right things are determined by the leaders; then questioning these beliefs questions those in authority and therefore threatens their legitimacy, and the stability of the organisation.

At the very least this can lead to a wariness to explore questions and doubts, and sometimes to outright hostility and shaming. Ironically this can lead to a situation I have witnessed, where visitors and enquirers are welcomed and accepted with open arms, but those who have been part of the community for a long time are discouraged from questioning practices or expressing doubts, and those with the courage to do so are treated as dangerous. Many are unaffected by this and are happy to conform, secure that their leaders are doing the hard work in working out what to believe. For others who cannot help but question, their doubts can be accompanied by a deep-seated anxiety or fear. What will others think? What will the leaders think? Will I lose my friends? What if I am wrong? What if I am risking hell and damnation? For those who have experienced and been burned by a fundamentalist community it can be hard to go back and try again for fear of being hurt all over again.

I believe that an authentic faith must leave room for doubt, that authentic community is based on acceptance not conformity, and that a church that truly incarnates the presence of Jesus will be inclusive to all. I haven’t got space here to expand on this but I believe there are strong theological and biblical justifications for this conviction.

Ultimately I am hopeful. I do believe that faith communities can thrive without conformity. There are countless congregations in churches, mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, temples, and a myriad other faith communities which are actively trying to build inclusive communities based on love not conformity. However if a community itself is founded on conformity then its existence and growth will be at the cost of excluding those who threaten or undermine that conformity. This does seem to be quite a successful strategy numerically (evangelical churches are the ones which are growing) but is hardly ‘thriving’ when it is ultimately harmful for the well-being of many of the members, and for the reputation (or ‘witness’) of the organisation.

If you are part of a community based on conformity but find yourself with doubts and questions, I pray that you find others with whom you can explore your beliefs without fear of shame or rejection. If you are in this situation but feel you have no-one to talk to, have a look at another of my posts where I listed a few suggestions of where you might find such a community online.

As always, I’d appreciate your feedback on these ramblings.