As a writer, I live ‘in here,’ in my head much of the time. As a faith leader, I live ‘out’ in the world, and up in front of a big community much of the time. ‘In here’ and ‘out there’ are two scary places to be sometimes. This is why I started blogging.
It is easy to feel isolated with one’s own thoughts. Especially if some of those thoughts are doubts about faith, or critiques of the Church, and one is supposed to be a leader in said faith/Church. But doubts and critiques are exactly what make a good leader. (even when we get it wrong…) I realized that other people were empowered when I asked hard questions. Other people were encouraged when I gave voice to my own doubts. Other people were inspired when I said out loud that maybe we don’t have all the answers…and we should start letting our context shape us, rather than the other way around.
The lights started coming on.
I wrote on my own for a couple of years—in fits and starts, through 2 pregnancies and newborn hazes; through cycles of elation and frustration (says Brian McLaren) in congregational ministry; and through some pretty epochal changes in the world around it all. For awhile, I was writing for an audience of roughly 12 church people and my mom. What I wrote during the week helped shape my preaching voice, (whether the actual content made it to the pulpit or not); it helped my congregation shape our own language of faith; and it kept us connected during the week. These were important things.
But then…then people started showing up at church who we’d never met before. They’d read something that made them think, this must be a pretty different and maybe cool kind of church–where the pastor could think and say things out loud. Then stuff got interesting. We realized this conversation wasn’t just about us processing our own shared faith journey. This was an invitation to people ‘out there.’
Somewhere in the midst of all this, I got another invitation—to join the Patheos interfaith network, and take up blogging residence on the Progressive Christian channel. That there even was such a thing as a ‘Progressive Christian Channel’ was a tremendously hopeful thing to me. Other people were asking hard questions. Other people were telling the truth. Other people were trying to let some light and air into the ancient hallways of faith. I was in.
Several things have happened since then: that church, which we’d struggled to grow for nearly 7 years, saw a big growth spurt; I was unexpectedly called to serve a different congregation; and even more unexpectedly, said yes; my family moved across the country; and people like Sarah Palin and that guy from Duck Dynasty guy kept giving us lots of good stuff to talk about.
I’m not saying that my previous church’s growth trend or my call to a new place were directly related to writing on Patheos. But I do know that important things happen when we ask hard questions and say the truth out loud. When we stop living in our own headspace, and in our small and safe communities, we are equipped and empowered by other voices. Sure, there are also trolls. But I’ve learned that troll traffic is a sign that you’re doing something right. (I’ve also learned that I have a ‘blacklist’ feature in the comments section, which is nice sometimes).
Patheos provides a space in which people give voice to belief, and put belief into practice. Whether we are writers, faith leaders, or seekers on the journey, this network reminds us that we are not alone out there (or in there).
Furthermore, we live in a time when people get elected and sell us lots of stuff by making us afraid of our neighbors. Patheos connects people across party lines and varied faith traditions. The writers in this sacred space are thoughtful, compassionate, well-read and worldy-thinking people. We are from different worlds, in so many ways—but intentional interfaith dialogue creates a venue to focus on shared values, rather than the dividing lines that D.C. and Wallstreet find so convenient. And for that, I am grateful.
Since coming onboard at Patheos, I’ve noticed a trend. I’m hearing from people all over the place and, to a person, they are telling the same story. “I have never felt safe talking about this at church.” “I would love to find a church like yours in my community.” “I am so happy to hear people talking about this.” “Thank you for saying this out loud.” “Thank you for asking this question.” “Thank you.”
Thank YOU readers, for making this the meaningful, thoughtful, life-giving place that it is. And listen…if you are one of those wanderers, hoping to find authentic, affirming community of your own, take heart. There’s life out there, and people who will love you as you are.
And if you are one of those faith leaders ‘out there’ struggling to say hard things out loud… keep saying. Keep questioning unjust systems, keep welcoming weird people, keep pushing your folks past what’s safe and comfortable. Yes, it’s scary. And yes, you might lose some folks you love (and, ok, you might lose some folks who you love in a biblical, “because Jesus said so” kind of way but whom you will perhaps not miss so much on a daily basis). And yes, the wheels might come off some stuff that you thought was important for awhile. But listen… the one thing I know from asking questions and telling the truth is this: people in your community are asking those same questions, and looking for a faithful community who will help them tell the truth. Don’t be afraid. Be the place that welcomes the gay neighbors; that cares about the environment; that willingly lets go of that which is dead or dying; the place that asks why the poor are poor; the place that wants to build smaller buildings (or no buildings) so that you are more free to wander with the neighbors; be the people to admit that you might not be the only people in heaven; be the church that asks people not to bring guns into worship, even if the state guv-ment says it’s ok; try to be like Jesus, instead of just talking about him; be the safe place for truth, and you will be amazed at who-all shows up.
In honor Patheos’ 5 year anniversary, check out some other blogs around the site. Maybe even go to a faith channel that makes you nervous, and see what those folks are talking about. In the meantime, here are some of my ‘biggest hits’ from the past couple of years… It’s a random sampling, but also telling of the wider conversation that people are hungry for, “out there.”