COVID-19 and Shifting Sand

Every day I waver between believing this COVID situation will all be over soon resulting in the return of normalcy as we knew it OR right now we are all witnessing society being reset in some kind of slow cataclysmic wave. I am not exaggerating when I say that every day my feelings shift back and forth in this regard. This emotionally charged shifting sand of feelings is primarily ignited by social media scrolling and by consuming regular news media neither of which are particularly reliable or healthy.

If I am not careful my mind will take me six months into the future, and depending on the day, that future may include sitting and listening to my daughter play cello with her orchestra OR sitting in my house in a hazmat suit holding her as she watches her college dreams slip through her fingers. My mother heart worries about my sons and whether they will ever go back to school and march with the band. Fear can consume a lot of my time if I let it.

And yet, I cannot control the future.

We don’t know the future.

While it is annoying that we cannot see where this is all heading, it is probably a mercy that we can’t. Our human minds can only handle bits of tragedy at once, and speaking hopefully, perhaps we are moving toward blessing rather than tragedy. Why does our mind take some of us to tragedy so swiftly?

Shifting Sand.

The last time my husband and I were facing a big change in our life I listened to a song over and over and over, and it comforted me. You can listen to that song here. I hope it comforts you to know that you are not alone in your shifting sand faith.

I’ve learned that my faith shifts depending upon what I consume. Like the fable about the two wolves living inside a man, and the one who survives is the one he feeds, fear grows when you feed it. Make no mistake. What is happening in our world IS scary. Whether we are being controlled by the government OR whether we are all bound to contract a serious illness, both are terrifying prospects. In both scenarios we, the public, lose. And I don’t know what the solution is to either reality. I cannot control it. Neither can you. What I can control is whether I live in fear or whether I live in faith.

Am I suggesting we visit Walmart without a mask and lick the credit card scanner? No. Am I suggesting that we trust everything out of the mouth of the government? Absolutely not. I am not even telling you to avoid watching the news. But…

If you will grant me this moment in your media diet, and listen to the voice of someone who struggles with depression and who has family members who are enslaved by anxiety, be mindful of how much you consume and be aware of what beast lurking within you are feeding. And the beast within will tell you that you need to be well-informed. And the beast within will tell you that you have everything to lose. And the beast within will tell you that information will help you maintain control. And I tell you, as a survivor who still wages these battles every day, the beast lies.

  • Be informed, turn it off, and make your own educated decision based upon hope and not solely based upon a daily charged tweet, post, or newscast. Remind yourself that people make money off of those mediums, and sensationalism sells big.
  • Be aware that nothing you own is truly yours. Give it away.
  • Be aware that the people around you are of God’s concern, and He loves them more than you do.
  • Be assured that you do not even have control over your next breath. Appreciate the next inhale… and exhale.

(None of that is a comfort to those of you clinging to sides of the fear pit trying to get out. I know how it works. This is not intended to comfort; rather it is a reality check. You might even feel angry right now after being told to turn off the TV. Anger is born out of fear.)

Things ARE changing. Good things are happening within that change. People are stepping up and speaking out. Look for the good. Seek out what NEEDS to change in your family system and in your church system and in your work system, and be a part of that growth. Notice that families are walking together outside. Notice that the sky looks bluer. Take your next breath and be thankful. Be grateful to live in a time where you get to watch all this unfold. Both the tragedies and the blessings bear witness to God’s plan and provision. You may be part of His plan, so support the sick. Protect the endangered. Pick up the phone. Love your people. Make the pain of this change worth it. Breathe.

Wherever we are going, God is there.








Quick meals.

“…to the church that meets in your home.” Paul penned those words when writing to Philemon in his letter to encourage the freedom of Onesimus. Philemon is a heartfelt letter to a personal friend for a shared personal friend. It’s about trust and love and acceptance. It’s a short letter from Paul to Philemon and the church that met in his home.

Meeting in a home is not a new thing for the church. It isn’t a trend or even a thing that only happens during pandemics. It isn’t merely what non-conformists or eccentric divisive spirits practice. Churches meeting in homes, sharing a meal, sharing the Lord’s supper, sharing scripture, and spiritual intimacy has been normal for two thousand years. What makes today different is that just our individual families are meeting together and trying to figure this out without much guidance from professionals…until all the prerecorded services hit facebook last week. But there are those who practice this out of necessity, out of a call to do so, out of desperately wanting more out of spiritual relationships.

For now, most of our friends are across town. Our loved ones somewhere else. We are all going at this alone and digitally tuning into other believers around the globe. But good things are happening in this precious time. Good conversations between parents and kids and believers from all over are happening. Questions are being asked. Answers are being pursued.  Prayers are being uttered and heard by those who’ve never spoke nor heard them. Your faith is either being discovered, growing, or revealing that it needs to grow. Good things are happening for believers, likewise good things are happening for the church. Perhaps God is allowing a sabbath where we are called to remember Him. He didn’t cause the virus. Perhaps he is allowing the break. Perhaps he wants us to ask what the point of all this church stuff truly is.

Church was always more than Sunday. Church was never supposed to be a quick meal. The Lord’s Supper was not created to be fast food. It’s now. It’s time. It’s neighbors checking on neighbors. It’s buying groceries for others. It’s making phone calls and sending cards. It’s family learning about one another. It’s brainstorming together how to DO good. It’s the ache in your heart to see and hug the people you love and to look into their eyes again…to be known, absolved, and loved for who you are. It’s waking up and becoming aware that family is seated around the table laughing and sharing and there are no time constraints or quotas to be met.  The church consists of relationships built upon the love of Christ that are so unique and so real and so accepting that you want to include others. I hope you have that. I hope you see that you need that and the world needs that. I hope you feel the call to add more plates when you set your table. 

As you miss your people, as you dive into potentially awkward prayer with your family, as you begin to notice that sweet things happen in tiny moments in tiny groups who know each other inside and out, remember to take that with you when you go back into your congregations. And don’t let this lesson be wasted. Don’t let this call to love better be forgotten. Expect better conversations, pursue closer relationships, live out your faith through the week rather than consuming a fast food Sunday. Make life together more than a quick meal. Make church more than a quick meal.



Down the Rabbit Hole: What we are missing.


It’s been a week since we were supposed to go back to school following spring break. The outbreak of Covid-19 has shut down the world.  The enormity of this global catastrophe is mind-blowing. We are all on the same team now fighting this virus. Most of us are sitting at home and communicating via Facebook, text, Zoom, and facetime. I am thankful for those mediums. They help life to feel semi-normal and go on in some sort of way. Life changes so swiftly. There truly is very little we have control over besides ourselves and even that is debatable at times.

Many of my friends will attempt worship at home this weekend since most churches have closed their doors to stop the needless spread of illness. It is weird thing to go from pew sitter to preacher, teacher, and prayer leader all at once, I suppose, especially if you are not accustomed to it. I imagine if your personality is one that enjoys playing to a crowd it is intensely awkward. I believe this time trapped at home may change a lot of us church people. I hope it will. Dave and I chose this season of searching and worshiping at home. The world is now being forced into it whether they want to or not. Will it change us?  Will missing a corporate church service make a difference to us at all? Will we worship without the help of the “professionals”? Can we be Christians without a building, without a praise band, without a preacher?

One of my earliest memories is learning the hand-folding rhyme “Here is the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up, and here’s all the people”.  I remember distinctly my mother saying, but remember, Caryn, the church is the people. It stuck with me. The church IS the people. It’s like having your first child. When it is your first baby you buy every supply out there. You think you need it all from diaper jeanies to bottle warmers to four different bouncy seats and the best diapers on the market. By the third child, you bring them home and let them sleep in a laundry basket if it is nearby because you’ve learned you just don’t need all that stuff. The same is true with the church.

I believe we all have gifts to share (1 Corinthians 12). We are each needed to function as a healthy body of believers. You matter in the church even if you never step foot on a stage in front of people. I have always found it peculiar that we train our kids to do “big” things in our churches, the up-front things. We train them to lead prayers, to preach, to lead songs or sing on praise bands. We often praise those up-in-front talents and gifts. And yet, in scripture, time and again, we see Jesus direct us toward an unseen servitude and sacrifice sans the applause. In times like these, when the applause is missing, what then? We see the church return to a simpler time and discover that we don’t need much at all to keep true faith going. We are forced to ask ourselves, is it true belief if it must be accompanied by lighting, a fog machine, an emotional song, and crowds of people to exist?

I miss having a church family. I am praying for a family of believers that I can love, trust, and serve, and be loved, trusted, and served in return. I don’t really care whether that is down the street or on the other side of the globe. I don’t really care what name is on the sign out front so long as scripture connects them to decision-making, unity is the goal, and serving their fellow man outside the walls of the building is the number one priority. I believe I need a family of believers in my life, and I believe you need that too. I no longer believe that it must look like what it has over the last one hundred years. It can reside within a garage, a pub, a living room, or a seventeenth century stone chapel. The church is where the people are living out the mission and that seldom happens in a building.

I do not believe you need a building, though it has its benefits IF used for the greater community.  I do not believe you need a program for every age group, in fact that has divided us more than educated us and has completely neglected the tradition of the older teaching the young (see Titus). I do not believe you need to look like everyone else within popular Christianity and if that is your goal, you are doing it wrong.  Make a goal of looking like Jesus not other Christians. But know this, I do not believe that Jesus attracts most people. I think he offends most people. I don’t believe exponential church growth models are founded upon the principle that we must tell the masses to repent and turn to God (words straight from the Savior -Mark 1:15). The gospel usually offends. I also don’t believe churches can exist without sinners being in attendance; sinners of all kinds, you, me, prostitutes, homosexuals, porn addicts, gamblers, divorcees, democrats, republicans, Patriot fans, Texans, etc. All are welcome even the people you don’t like nor approve (Mark 2:15). I also believe that our influence over this country and the world will not change until we as the global body of Christ can learn to disagree and still worship alongside each other. Trust me when I tell you, the only people who care about your worship preferences and doctrines are you, and you waste time focusing your energy upon it. Unbelievers just see our arrogance and our arguing. These debates are not interpreted as love. This has no place in the universal Church of God, the Way, the Church of Christ, whatever name is on your placard, the community knows you by your service to them and your reputation to play well with others.

What are we missing? We are missing exactly what is happening right now: the simplicity of Jesus in our homes, the generosity of neighbors sitting with neighbors and sharing a beer or tea from six feet away laughing and living life together, good people checking in on each other and buying groceries for the shut-ins. We are missing Jesus lived out on the streets rather than hidden inside our self-congratulated buildings. Here is a moment in time where we can all be completely real without the pretense and facades of a Sunday only faith. Take that back to our churches and change the game and change the conversations. What is your church doing for the community? Are they a comfort or merely a concert?

I have made my peace with institutional religion. I can defend it better than most because I’ve both relied upon it for my income and witnessed what organization can do for the world when used for good. I have also experienced the sharp pang of the sword the institutional church wields. Change is coming to the institution. It is coming faster than many know, and this virus may make the move even more swift. We must change from pews to tables, from being fed to feeding one another, from battling one another to living our God ordained calling to change the world. I am excited to see the change. I can’t wait.

Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.


Down the Rabbit Hole: Places we don’t want to travel.


I’ve been in a meeting where I looked into the eyes of a deacon, a friend turned child abuser. I felt the bile rise in my throat when I tried to speak in that meeting when the sickening truth had all been laid bare. I do not remember much of it, but I remember screaming in my van as I drove home. I remember feeling strange hugging my own children that night; something so pure now tainted with the filth of someone else’s sin.

After so long in ministry, we have stories, people stories good and bad. The good outweighs the bad for certain, but bad stories are louder in your mind during seasons of sadness and hurt. The interesting part about being wounded is that everything bad comes back at once like a swirling negative memory cesspool, and you are trapped in the middle spinning through those memories, those pictures of faces who’ve betrayed you or betrayed the people you love. In the middle of trauma, you have a difficult time differentiating past situations and past hurts with present people and present places. The good people around you begin to look eerily similar to the villians in your past and you fear them and you can’t help but mistrust them. The weird thing is, most of the pain I hold in my heart is not from situations that affected me directly. It is from pain that I’ve absorbed from other people like a really irresponsible sponge. I tell myself to differentiate, but then I see my people in pain, and I soak it up again ready to make my soft spongy exterior jagged and capable of cutting all potential perpetrators coming close.

I don’t even want to type the next word because I still don’t understand it, and frankly, I don’t want to travel there.

Forgiveness is easy if you have little to forgive. Forgiveness is a bumper sticker word for Christians who’ve lived charmed and lucky lifestyles. The notion of forgiveness to people who have experienced sexual abuse from parents (or church leadership), abandonment, or betrayal from spouses creates acidic justified anger and venomous hateful retaliation. Forgiveness is only a pretty word if you haven’t had to practice it much or you are talking about someone forgiving your own indiscretions. We whitewash forgiveness in our churches. We make it seem like a swift change of heart. It is not.

Forgiveness is a daily act of will. It is not a feeling.

I want to be honest and tell you there are people in my life whom I have not forgiven yet. You can judge me for that. You can hold me accountable to it. I am working on it. There are days when I wake up that I must remind myself to live in a state of forgiveness in case I bump into someone on the street. And there are days I live in anger and bitterness. And I know deep inside me whether I’m living in forgiveness each day or if I’m holding onto that old familiar pain. Pain is often more comfortable to carry in the pit of your stomach than the acceptance of never ever hearing an apology or never seeing justice come to those who deserve it.

The most healing words I have ever heard are the words spoken to validate my personal pain; the validation that my anger was/is justified. When I heard those words from a friend, I finally began to heal. I began to move forward. “What that person did to you was wrong. They hurt you. They messed up big.” We need more words like this spoken to the hurting people around us. We are so afraid to call out sin and offend others, that we have a growing crowd of Christians leaving churches because they’ve never heard the words “You are justified in your anger. They hurt you. They messed up.” Instead, what hurting people usually hear is a trite and simple answer “You need to move on and forgive because Jesus forgave you.”

It is true. Jesus forgives us. It is true. We all sin. I sin. I sin in my unforgiveness. I risk being unforgiven myself. I need to forgive. I also need to hear that it is ok if that forgiving takes work and is undeserved.

It is not helpful to invalidate the pain of others and paint the forgiveness of abuse as an easy one step process to maintain the comfort levels of church leadership and the happy-go-lucky congregants. Our institutionalized versions of the church have made public relations and the protection of the institution more of a priority than the people within its walls. We desire to hide our ugly for the sake of our image. In doing so, we protect abusers. We protect adulterers. We protect cruelty. We protect everyone but the ones who need our protection.

Church shopping when you live in a constant state of mistrust is laughable. There is no church I could plug into over the last year until I began to move forward with my life. Until I started to unpack the sin sack I carried, both my own sins and those of others who had hurt me or my people, I could not truly love anyone.

I want to talk to you personally now…as if this series hasn’t already been personal enough to make my sweet mother squirm. If someone has hurt you, either within the institutional church or outside, what they did was wrong. You are justified in your pain and your anger. You will wear the scar for the rest of your life, and it is not a scar that you can hide with a floral community-comforting scarf. If you cannot spend time, befriend, be a digital connection, or even live in the same state with the person who hurt you, you are justified. The goal of human forgiveness is not friendship. Forgiveness and reconciliation may not always coincide. Only Christ can pull that off. Eventually, maybe you and I can become more like the perfect Christ. Until then, be justified in your boundaries.

A resounding theme this year above and beyond our Sunday visits are Christians crossing our path who have left the institutionalized church. They are still believers. I witness to you that many are more faithful followers of Christ than some at the Sunday show. But they are hurt. They’ve witnessed the mishandling of abuse, of finances, moral failure from church leadership, the neglect of the poor, the neglect of God’s people and his Word and they just couldn’t take the facade of “church” any more. They are daily practicing forgiveness, but they probably won’t be back through your church building doors. And that is completely fine. They need a church that is real and generally they’ve found a purer expression of church in people they gather around them; though it looks much different than the institutional variation of the Lord’s church that we’ve created.

If you are one of the spiritually exiled from the institutional church, I must challenge you to continue to live into forgiveness every day. Please don’t shut me down here. If you can never come back through the doors of the institutionalized church, fine. You don’t have to, but there are a few things you must do for your own spiritual survival. You must find a non-traditional church of your own, a simple gathering of people who call you to a closer relationship with Jesus, who hold you accountable, who live out the call to give to the unfortunate and share Jesus with those who don’t know him. It can be in a house or a pub or a park or your work at lunch. You must daily walk the path with Jesus yourself and live out that lifestyle to all people around you in love. But you also must accept that while the issues with the institutional churches are many, there is still good found there. There are still good people both trapped inside and still working inside to make changes for the better. I know some of those faithful people who refuse to leave and they would love to have you back if and when you ever get to that point.


Down the Rabbit Hole: Which church?


You don’t know bitterness and cynicism unless you know a Detroit Lions fan. Detroiters are spectacularly loud, sarcastic, and sassy anyway, but talk to them about their football team and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of how brash and honest they really are. The Lions are a notoriously bad team, and we fell in love with them when we lived in Michigan. But everyone knows that you pick a second favorite team if you love the Lions because they just never win. Nevertheless, in this house, we are loyal fans even though they break our hearts year after year.

The most unusual Lions fan I know is Lew. Lew is a burly Detroiter with a scruffy beard, graying hair, and a heart that bleeds Honolulu blue ever devoted to worst football franchise in the country. He’s had season tickets for over twenty years and attends every home game and travels to away games loyally with unyielding hope. The best thing about Lew is his laugh. His low santa-esk bellow will make everyone in the room smirk and then feel bad for the ever-faithful guy who’s laughing while still sporting a personalized Lions jersey.  Lew religiously misses Sunday church services during football season. He graciously took my husband to several games and introduced him to the other season ticket holders who sit around him. (Well, the faithful few ticket holders who hadn’t already sold their tickets to the highest bidder for that game.) That crew of fans sharing that section all know each other by name. They all know details about each other’s lives. They ask about family and kids in college. They share stories of some of the best and worst games. They all sit week after week, loss after mind-blowing loss, and cheer on the Lions together; commeradarie in the face of adversity. 

The notable thing about Lew isn’t only his loyalty to the Lions or his great relationships with the other fans; it’s his post-game routine of stopping by his favorite bakery and buying sweet potato pies for himself and an extra for a homeless guy on the street. Not any particular homeless person; in Detroit, you are never too far from someone needing help. Lew never seemed to forget the guys laying in the cold, gray streets of the D. You’d only know this about Lew if you had a chance to join him for a game. He’s not the kind of guy who would brag about it because he’s usually talking about plays or throws or coaches. Lew misses some Sundays at the church building, but he never misses a chance to share with someone in need. Or maybe Lew isn’t missing church at all.

My observation of the church over the last forty years is Lew may do more good work on those Sundays at the game than most of us do sitting in our pews. If you are at a church that prioritizes good works for the poor, then you can trust that the money going into the plate serves that purpose. Yet, there is something intrinsically pure about just acting on Christ’s directives yourself and not paying a middle man to do your good works for you. There is something absolutely right and natural about sitting alongside your community, knowing them deeply and personally, cheering on a team together, and actually living out the example of Christ along the way. A lot of “good” church people judged Lew harshly for not showing up on Sundays in the fall and excluded him in some get togethers. But I suggest Lew does more good for the cause and witness of Christ cheering on the Lions and passing out sweet potato pie to the homeless than those of us trapped in our spiritual checklists of programs and preaching each week. Both seats are generally uncomfortable, but one actually serves a purpose for the greater good and the other generally just serves itself.

Every fall my husband finds or creates a fantasy football league. When we moved to Houston, Dave posted on the facebook neighborhood want ads looking for a fantasy league to join. Someone named Ben messaged him and invited him to join a league which meets every Wednesday night in a guy named Chad’s garage. So Dave joined. Chad’s garage has two nasty stained couches, folding sports chairs, a rubber exercise ball, an empty keg utilized as an extra seat, and a flat screen TV always on ESPN. On Dave’s first visit to Chad’s garage, he was greeted with handshakes from around the room, an open chair, and a cold beer. He soon discovered that originally the group was gathered as a men’s bible study but slowly transformed into this ecumenical gathering of men from all life stages. They play fantasy football, talk sports and beer styles, but they also openly talk about life in an authentic and unguarded continuous dialogue. I don’t exaggerate when I say that Chad’s garage was a refuge for my husband over the last four years away from a job where he always felt he was walking on eggshells, was unaccepted and was judged for who he was. Chad’s garage is place where Dave can have deep spiritual conversations with open bibles around other men but without the judgement and pretense of a traditional church gathering and thankfully without the lofty expectations placed upon him for wearing the title of “minister”. He is free to be real there. They all are. I believe it is a holy place.

I have a friend who was just diagnosed with diabetes. She is overweight. She can no longer eat all the things her church brings to the potluck, but she is so paranoid about the judgement of her church family that she has not told them about her current struggle. Imagine if that struggle was of larger moral consequence. I doubt she would still be coming in the doors, and if she was, imagine the burden of that secret.  And we are keeping those secrets and scandals and then they are blowing up around us in our churches both from our leadership and in the pews. If only we were comfortable enough to talk about it all openly. Perhaps one time sins wouldn’t lead to lifetimes of consequences and forever mistrusting parishioners.

My heartache for Lew was watching him be excluded by people who never missed a Sunday church service but would also make change in the youth group contribution tray. And I asked myself who the better Christian was in my own ugly judgment. My heartache for my friend is that she believes the relationships at her church building are real but will never truly be sure if they are real as long as she hides her health limitations.

So today I am at a crossroads. I don’t know which church to chose anymore. I want to live alongside people who live their faith out in the open and who refuse to be trapped in these weekly facades of pretense and practice thinking that is what saves them. I am fearful that those people no longer exist within our buildings. I am afraid we have all already left.

Due to sexual abuse of which I’ve witnessed the dark evils that exist within our leaderships that are often swept under the rug, due to the pious judgements of which I confess I’ve been a part and been victim to, due to the rigorous contempt and warfare for any shift away from modernity or tradition (not biblically mandated), due to our emotionalized well-marketed campaigns to sell people on our Sundays and our contribution trays, church, you are missing the mark, ignoring the harvest field, and we are losing the battle. And this is one Christian who is choosing a different path.

The church of modernity has lost its impact whether we want to admit it or not. The “if you build it they will come” mentality does not create honest believers. We attempt to win the masses to Sunday to pay for bloated budgets and billion dollar buildings, but we don’t win them to a Monday through Saturday Savior who shares a table with all the sinners. We have a church full of sinners who hide it on Sundays. If given a choice, I choose the church full of Lews. I choose the church that meets in Chad’s garage. I choose a church where I can tell people that I struggle without worrying that they will smile and then avoid me the next week. I wish those churches were found on every corner.




Down the Rabbit Hole: There’s more.


I lost a much wanted pregnancy when our eldest was two. It devastated me. Looking back, I think that was the first of many obvious Spirit moments for me. Firstly, I think that’s when I first started to struggle with depression. And secondly, it was the first time that I became distinctly aware that there was an unseen mysterious spiritual universe around me. When it became clear that we were losing the baby, my husband and I prayed on our knees for God to change his mind. He didn’t. I decided that I would secretly name the baby Michael. I had a vivid dream before the loss that he was a boy.  Michael was his name in my heart. I never told anyone. His name was my secret.

Two weeks later our precocious first born was having a tea party rather than taking her daily nap in her bedroom. Before I could step into her room to reprimand her and cuddle her back into bed, I overheard her talking to someone; the typical play of a two year old who knows way too many words for her size. So I popped in and said, “Lily, who are you talking to instead of napping?” She responded without a beat, “Michael and I are playing, mama.” I left her to play without being able to respond. I cried in my room through nap time.

I want you to know that this season of church wandering was quite lonely at times. Most of this loneliness was self-inflicted. There were moments of emptiness especially on Sundays that are difficult to describe. Growing up in the ministry and then marrying it, I have always had some kind of purpose on Sundays. I never even knew that this self-assigned purpose was there until it was gone. I’ve always logically known my relationship with Jesus was more than a Sunday morning experience, but this year that relationship was put to the test. Ministering families are always on the clock on Sundays, you see. And I’ve been living a facade of being “ok” at worship on Sundays for a very long time. The energy it takes to be fake for the sake of everyone else’s Sunday experience takes its toll. An introvert struggling with depression attempting to pull this off regularly is exhausting. Being reminded weekly that you are a removable and exchangeable part in the frankinbody of Christ is straight up spiritually destructive. I don’t think I’m the only one playing this “I’m ok on Sundays” game. If you are faking it and expecting to make it, cut it out. Be real for the sake of you and the church.

For the first time in my adult life, I’ve been free to desperately and independently seek God outside my assigned church station.  I thought I’d find more of Him somewhere on this Sunday visit journey.  Maybe I saw glimpses. I heard the moving songs. I listened to the motivational sermons. I saw the plethora of children’s/youth/Christmas program advertisements and the fantastic artwork that some tribes showcase. I witnessed all kinds of Christians worshiping in their various ways. But what I saw and heard and learned was all too familiar. After three months, it all felt stale and rote regardless of the sign outside, regardless of what I witnessed. What I wanted was a burning bush.

I wonder if a lot of us are looking for that when we go into buildings on Sundays. We get little glimpses and then forget on Monday. And after a year of visits, Sundays all just feel manufactured. These manufactured moments are intended to bring people closer to Jesus, and I think this works sometimes. But for the most part, it’s just that it IS often manufactured for the sake of a visitor. It feels like a huge marketing strategy to convert people to Sundays and not the Savior. We are selling church experiences instead of sharing Christ. We are speaking a language on Sunday that visitors don’t speak, or at least, I stopped understanding. And it was the same whether the service was traditional or progressive. After a while for the most part, it all appeared like an attempt to convince me to put money in their particular tray.  So, I started paying attention to Monday through Saturday.

Before you say it, I agree. The heart of the worshiper is what makes space for worship. But what I was looking for was something more than my personal fulfillment, I was looking for meaning. I wonder if that is what most visitors are seeking. I propose it is. We assume they care about our worship styles. They come in looking for purpose, for faith in action, for a point to this difficult life, and often what they see is people singing songs then leaving to go get lunch. You can’t worship what you don’t understand. Sundays may not be the best way to spread the word that God is truly with us. You must see God in action to understand.

Most sermons I heard in my youth were devoid of conversations about the Spirit of God. I remember that it was considered progressive to have a bible class on the topic of the mysterious Holy Spirit. We certainly didn’t want to appear like the Holy Rollers down the street. But there were some of us, a curious few, who knew there was more conversation to have. In our first ministry, a sweet older lady held her bible tightly when she sternly looked at me and said “the Holy Spirit only lives in these words I hold in my hand”. I love that lady, but she was wrong.

I work in an elementary school. At the end of my work day, I sit and answer phones for the front desk. The after school daycare clerk sits alongside me and checks out students. Last year I got to know the clerk. Her name was Mary. She was 82 years old. She was a recently widowed pastor’s wife. She told me intriguing stories about their ministry in Arizona with the Southern Baptist churches. I listened. I never shared anything about myself. The day I came in after leaving our ministry thereby walking away from our primary source of income, I wrote Mary a note asking for prayers because I couldn’t speak about it without getting emotional for months. We sat in silence for the rest of the day after she read my note.

The next day when the office had cleared, Mary handed me an envelope. In it was $300 and a note that read, “I understand”. She then told me story after story about how she and her husband had been dismissed from three different ministries. She did indeed understand. How strange. Here at this moment in time in my life at this random school, the two of us sat wearing similar battle scars. I tried to refuse money, but she called it her “tithe” and backed away from me shaking her head. Her tithe wasn’t to a church building; her tithe was to help my family.

I never shared much with Mary about my personal life outside the note I wrote. I’m not a sharer by nature, and especially during this season, I was not talking to anyone or just handing out trust again willy nilly. Out of the silence one afternoon, Mary said, “But have you sang in praise to Him? Have you sang? You need to.” It was like she was finishing my thought. Mary didn’t know how much music was a part of my life. I studied classical voice for more than ten years. I started college as a music major and survived in college thanks to a generous music scholarship. Music speaks to my heart in a way that is personal and emotional. I had not lifted my voice in song for a very long time especially  not in praise. There was no way for Mary to know this about me. But God knows, and clearly, Mary was pretty tight with the Spirit of God.

Another morning as I drove into work and was having my usual argument with God about how we couldn’t pay our bills, I glanced over into the median and spotted these tiny white flowers. Immediately, I remembered Matthew 6:28-30.

 “Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which are alive today and tomorrow thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!”

I confess I literally rolled my eyes at the thought in my own mind. Yep, I scoffed at the Maker of the Universe and his gentle promise of provision. Ten minutes later I was greeting students as they walked into the school and one little boy who I had never seen before, never spoken to, walked up to me with the exact same kind of flowers and said, “You need these today”. He bounded off never to talk to me again.

I have a friend who never stopped harassing me during my silent season. She would leave voicemails that spoke right to the heart of what I needed regularly. I have other friends who supported us financially. I have friends who checked in and left cards and notes and forced uncomfortable hugs. All people from all kinds of churches, some without brick and mortar churches, all listening to the Spirit of God and acting on it.

And this is what got me through this year: The Spirit of God loudly getting my attention and working through the lives of others. None of which had anything to do with Sunday morning. I learned that God is alive in our daily experiences and expressions. He is alive in others and works through us through the week to direct our paths. Sunday exists to share communion with our church family and remember our Lord together. Monday through Saturday exist to share communion with our church family and act on the Spirit of God’s directives whether they make sense to us at the time or not. I would not have heard God so loudly had that sweet little boy not handed me those flowers. How many times has God had a message for me that I’ve overlooked because I simply was not listening?

We carry the Holy Spirit of God with us every day. We are the conduits of this Spirit for each other, for the greater community around us, and we have a direct line of communication with the Father. We are responsible to live out these Spirit directives every single day. We must become more sensitive to the voice and the Spirit of God guiding us. If we truly believe that the Spirit of God rests within us, then each of us are burning bushes for each other and have our own pillars of fire guiding us. Do we believe that? Do we act on it every day or are we only expecting to see the Spirit move on Sundays when we get goosebumps during our favorite Christian anthem? There’s more.

The failure of Westernized Christianity is the creation of this one-stop-shop Sunday routine where we listen to our preferred songs, our prefered preachers speaking our preferred doctrines, do our attendance duties, pop a dollar in the plate, and then lock the Spirit of God up in a convenient Sunday box. In this habit we miss the greater more intimate messages on Monday that speak directly to our hearts. This is not the design intended for the people of God. Church, you must be more because there is more.

I don’t know what Lily saw that day in her bedroom so long ago. I don’t know if it was the spirit of my lost child or something else or just a two year old playing and a coincidence. But I know without a doubt that the Spirit of God is here to guide us and to help us and that we fight unseen battles for our hearts every day. I pray we all are open to that guidance and that we are listening.

Down the Rabbit Hole. The Kids.


The kids were grandma’s greatest concern on our journey across denominational borders. But I don’t really want to start there. I think it’s better that you know our kids and where they were when this journey began. And grandmas worry regardless. (Sorry, Moms.)

My kids all come from the same gene pool. A point I remind myself of almost daily, and a point that Dave has questioned jokingly before stopping short and avoiding a night on the couch.

The Eldest

Our eldest is the stereotypical oldest child. She is an enneagram 8; a fact of which she is greatly proud. She is a born leader but a hesitant joiner. She is an intellectual and one of the most determined people I know. Before the recommended college reading assignments, she was our bibliophile, and her bible was/is the most important in the heap. She scours the pages. She studies and takes the Word very seriously. She doesn’t take it lightly when others take the Bible lightly. She fact checks every sermon. She carries a Greek New Testament or a parallel bible to church. Just because you have letters after your name doesn’t mean she won’t double check that what you say is accurate and not just your schmoozy opinion. It was not rare during this year for her to call out a preacher as heretical. She noticed whether or not the church mentioned caring for the poor.

Our eldest left for college early in our journey and solidified her preferences early on. And now that she is out of the house these are her words as she describes the church with Mennonite roots where she attends now, “I like small, Bible-centered communities of people from diverse backgrounds. The liturgy and other semantic type things don’t matter as much to me as long as they are trying to honor God by being true to his word. “Denomination” is a word I have come to wince at in general. Because any group of people who believe in the will of God and live by scripture are the church, and are all tasked with the same mission: go and make disciples. Care for widows and orphans. Love one another. I do enjoy high church for the reverence and sanctity. But I also like to go into a church building and feel as though I am on the same level as everyone else, and often high church puts priests on pedestals, just like megachurches do with their staff.”

She is a good representation of Gen Z from what I’ve read. They are not brand loyal. They are Jesus loyal. They are not bothered with the lines that generations before them drew. Anything other than doing good, seeking justice and walking humbly is suspect, and they will walk. Our journey did not shatter her faith. It enhanced it. It made it her own. 

The Middle Man

Our middle loves people. He always has. He is a giver by nature. He finds the outcasts and creates a team. He believes in his heart that everyone loves everyone. He’s an includer. He smiles. He hugs. He laughs. He is the joy in my day. Middle man has dreamt of being a minister since he was five years old. He idolizes his daddy. He feels big. He has never met a stranger, as they say, and will be your friend without question or hesitation. And his heart breaks hard when he learns the dirty truth about how people behave toward each other in the church and outside. He has scars.

Our middle was the most wounded when we left our last ministry. He could not fathom that people who claimed to love us would lie or be on a mission other than his own. He lost his friend group and his faith in church leadership even though we told him little details about our leaving in the beginning. He sorted out the ugly on his own. So we filled in the gaps to help him heal. He is still struggling to forgive us and those who hurt us. He is still struggling to want to trust anyone including his parents. And for four months he no longer wanted to go into ministry.  I confess we were relieved for his heart’s sake. He’s been fighting a dark depression for months and is in a good season today as I type this. He told us just a couple months ago that he is still interested in ministry, but he plans to double major in something else as well. We fully support him to have a back up plan. (Please pray for him as he continues to fight this forgiveness battle and depression. Please pray for him as he feels called to join the ranks of minister.)

The journey to him was somewhat boring because he is so relational. Corporate experiences are not particularly relational no matter how excited the praise band is. He has been left wanting. When we started the journey, he wanted whatever was loud and fun, but the more he experienced, the more he saw through the showtime. He realized what he missed was family, church family. And there’s nothing quite so lonely as a concert by yourself.

(My pontification on this point is: if corporate worship is all you offer as church, you are not operating a church, you are running an event center. And if Sunday is all you participate in as a Christian, there is so much more to being a part of a church and to following Christ. You are limiting your spirit and not living into what God has designed you to be as a active part of the family of God. There’s nothing wrong with corporate worship, but it is not necessarily a biblical demonstration of a church at work.)

The Youngest

Our youngest is about as machiavellian as a child can be. He is a skeptic and highly intelligent. He is exceedingly private and introverted. You must win his trust, and he can sense insincerity. Inauthenticity repels and disgusts him. He told me when he was five that he didn’t buy the Noah story. He said it was highly improbable. I didn’t argue. Whether Noah is factual or allegorical really doesn’t matter. I just pray that this kid knows Jesus. So far he does, but he’s watching the church and that has done the most damage to his young faith. And even now, my prayer is that the church will make it on his list of priorities. Once you betray a kid like this, it is difficult to win him back. He will just want to destroy you and light the world ablaze with a sign proclaiming your lies, and you’ll never quite know what hit you. But all that will likely only play out in his head, and in reality, he will walk and never look back.

Our youngest appreciated small church the most especially high church services with liturgy. He appreciated being able to follow along with the order of worship. His introverted nature felt peace during contemplative silences and prayer. Overly zealous greeters made him absolutely squirm which tickled all of us a bit. His preference of speakers were short winded and to the point. Joking did nothing for the kid.

There was not one visit that all of my children agreed upon. Not one. If one claimed the preacher was a heretic, then the other thought he was hilarious. If the worship made the middle man soar, then it absolutely infuriated our youngest. And every one of them could back up their opinions citing scripture.

I was lucky to stay home with my kids for many years. Part of what I did as a stay home mom is study the bible with them, and I don’t just mean read from a Bible story book. We sat at the kitchen table and went through bible curriculum for about an hour every day. (If you want to know what we used, message me.) My two oldest kids learned Bible not doctrine nor tradition. Our youngest was young enough when I went back to work full time that he barely remembers our time at the table together which breaks my heart.

We’ve questioned whether we failed in being too open with our kids about the church. For better or worse, when the two older kids revealed signs of wanting to work in ministry we both decided to tell the truth rather than paint them rainbows. But the fact of the matter is, all kids are smart, and if you honestly believe that they don’t see through the pretense at your church building, you are the crazy one. What we have is a generation of kids who have friends with gender confusion at school, but they come to churches who still want youth ministries solely providing Veggietales and skating parties. They need clear honest conversations. They need peace. They need a safe place to ask questions.  They need parents who care about their spirituality more than whether or not they fit in with the popular crowd. They don’t need more skating parties.  As a minister’s daughter and a youth minister’s wife, I’ll let you in on a secret, no church and no minister regardless how dynamic will convert your child to Jesus, only you will. And if you are depending on the church or a Christian school to do that job for you, you will be greatly disappointed. Your family doesn’t have to look like mine, but your God given responsibility as a parent is to teach your child about Jesus. You can’t outsource that ministry to the church and every day you wait is wasted time.

So for grandma’s sake, yes, this journey impacted my kids, and it probably could have destroyed their faith after a year of wandering, but we never left them alone. After every visit we openly discussed what we saw. We let them ask questions.  We went back to the bible and sought directives. We let them share what made them uncomfortable and what they liked. And we reminded them over and over that the reason why differences in the church exist is because we are each different just as they are, and humans have a hard time sacrificing for one another to get along. We made a point to tell them that regardless of where we land, we land together and we will worship together as a family. We will live sacrificially as a family and love as a family.

The sweetest and most intimate moments for us have been when we’ve worshiped in our home this year. Most churches do not practice weekly communion which to me is big priority. So we take the Lord’s Supper as a family. We circle up and take turns praying over the bread and the wine and share the memory of our Savior together. This is how we’ve remained grounded in what matters.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Love?


Love is the interesting thing about visiting different churches. You can see, feel, and witness love, and you can eerily feel the bleak absence of it. There are churches that immediately reach out to you as the visitor with love. There are churches that reach in to each other with love. There are churches that reach up to the Savior with love. And then there are churches that make you wonder if they even know what love is. I found that I prefer a church that can love in and out and up, and while we have much in common in practice and belief, having those three acts of love all at work is one thing that singles some churches out from the host of options out there. 

Most Americans have figured all this commonground out by the way. It’s no secret. I think I’m the last one in on the secret that most of these buildings/churches share more common ground than not. I guess if I didn’t know anything about Christianity at all, and what I did know I learned on facebook ads, then I would choose the most entertaining and positive place I could find because life is hard and celebrity culture drives us to what is popular and pleasurable. Hence the rise of the mega mcchurch. Which is fine in the beginning, but the extravagant entertainment of mcchurch leaves people there in the pleasure zone. And when children die or jobs go away or your spouse cheats on you, that’s when the rubber hits the road and you find out where your people really are. Do the hurting go to the bible for resolution OR do they go to the guy in skinny jeans singing about sloppy wet kisses with Jesus OR do they go to the people in the pew who actually know them? This is what will make your church A church, relationships. And relationships don’t happen during Sunday morning showtime nor Sunday morning traditional fare, but I guarantee your visitors can feel whether or not they exist. We can. We did. 

When my family of five walked into one building, no one spoke to us. No one even turned to look at us. When we walked into the sanctuary, most pews were filled except the back row. (Score one for my introverted youngest.) Upon further inspection was a sign on that empty last row that said “do not sit here, ask the usher for help.” The one problem was, where the heck was the usher? What usher? Dave looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and gestured to the third row from the back with an empty space in the middle.

We asked a surly looking gentlemen if we could squeeze in with him, he acted disgruntled, rolled his eyes, and huffed. He begrudgingly stood and let our family squeeze by.  Regardless of the poor beginning and lack of reaching out to us, I was determined to find the good. I liked the music of this worship service primarily because it was familiar. Secondly, I liked that a missionary was speaking (reaching out). I was tracking with this sweet man for a while until he noted that his church was one of only four churches in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. My daughter immediately pulled out her phone, and after a quick google search, she found he was way off by the hundreds. And even if we only counted churches with the same denominational name on the sign out front, he was off by more than twenty. In essence, what he was saying was, there are only four congregations of people who believe exactly as he does, using the same bible translation, and the rest of those heathens don’t count. He lost my daughter’s respect and attention immediately. She joined the guy on the end with the eye-rolling.

It’s a good thing Paul didn’t keep track like that as he traveled around between cities. To make a group of Gentiles behave the same way a group of Jewish Christians did?  Imagine explaining to the Greeks, I’m sorry, you can no longer eat shrimp because Larry gets upset. I don’t remember Paul whispering to Larry, “Now those people eat shrimp and they say they are “Christians”, but really they’re not Christians until we tell them to hold off on the crustaceans”. I suppose we can add to scripture that all practices must be identical to be holy, and when you find that particular scripture about which bible to use to be saved let me know. 

Walking into a black church changed my life. I am grateful to have learned what it must feel like to be the only one who looks like you all the time. It feels lonely. It feels scary…until the deacons catch your eye and make a beeline to you to shake your hand. We felt sincerely loved and welcomed at that particular church, but they loved each other as well. They all greeted one another with gregarious handshakes and hugs, and the language was all “brother this” and “sister that”, a Christian tradition largely forgotten in white churches. Our black brethren know how to dress for the Lord, friends, another tradition largely forgotten in white churches in an attempt to welcome the impoverished or is it to keep the fussy people comfortable? Sometimes I wonder if our good intentions make different statements to different people.

By the time the auditorium was full, we were one of three white families in the room. Coincidentally, we were seated next to one of those white couples. We didn’t speak. At the end of the service, the pastor looked directly in our section at the white family beside us and said, “The Phillips have brought family with them today.” The very white Phillips were sitting down the pew from us. We looked at each other confused. Then we all looked back up at the minister and shook our heads. There was a long confused pause as the entire auditorium turned to look at the white confused faces. Booming laughter from the minister broke everyone’s gaze, as he said, “Well, as they say, you all look alike to us any way!” The audience roared. My family sat frozen and afraid to move wondering if it was ok to laugh at his joke or not. Eventually, another deacon walked up grabbed Dave by the shoulder and said, “Brother, laugh! We are SO glad you are here!”

The impassioned and honest worship of our black brothers offers much. They feel big. They believe big. And they show it. I loved the freedom in that, and I regretted how many years I spent angry and glued to my seat in my pious reverence. There is a time to be reverent and there is a time to sing to the Lord because He SAVES. Wisdom is knowing the difference. Love allows us to let David dance to the Lord rather than sit in judgement with Michal. (2 Samuel 6)


Love is what makes the difference. You can have everything in common, but if you don’t have love, you really have nothing. You can be as different as black and white but be completely equal in the sight of God and be brothers unified in his love. And your visitors, if you get them to walk in the doors, will feel whether or not love is there.


Down the Rabbit Hole: The journey begins.


Once the sour taste of love unrequited starts to fade, and you stop eating gallons of ice cream, you begin to think about slipping a toe into the relationship waters again. But commitment is not the goal. The notion of diving in gives you acid reflux. So, after forty-three years of buying into the belief that there is one way to do church and having been spiritually reared that our brand was the right brand, my family began a journey over the last year of visiting all varieties of the Christian church, all denominations. Because when you’ve been burned in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is jump into another one. And to us, church was about relationships, commitment, and love. A notion that was shattered. So we walked out the door and down a rabbit hole. 

Our roots, the Churches of Christ, have a surprisingly recent history of believing they singularly hold the cards when it comes to biblical interpretation. And while I love my roots and respect my people, my tribe, I no longer adhere to the arrogance that in the 1800s in the hills of Kentucky,  Stone and Campbell’s Restoration movement finally figured it all out. Sadly, what many in the Churches of Christ have forgotten, in their historylessness, is the original intent of the restoration movement “to be Christians only, but not the only Christians.” It was a beautiful, ecumenical, and unifying idea. As a matter of fact, the earliest members of the restoration heritage worshipped with just about anyone. Don’t believe me? I have a book for you regarding Christians on the Oregon Trail. (For now, I personally apologize to anyone who has been maligned by members of the Churches of Christ who have made you feel like less of a Christian because you don’t worship in one of their buildings. May God forgive us. And I pray you do as well. Most Churches of Christ have a rich history of remaining biblical in practice and belief. On that front, I encourage you to give them another chance. I want to. I hope they let us back in after I write this blog.) Back to our journey…

Despite my youthful understanding of Christianity, the core of what Christians believe across denominations is the same, brethren. And here it is:

A perfect Christ, the Son of God, was willingly crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation because we were so loved by God.

After visiting twenty plus churches from the liturgical Catholics to the rocking worship at a predominantly black church, this is a constant.

Every church used the bible.
Every church had some form of musical worship.
Every church prayed in Jesus name.
Every church mentioned the struggle with the surrounding culture and sin.
Every church included deeply committed adherents to their practices and the faith.
Every church responded to the gospel with repentance and some form of baptism.

I have news for you friends, the order of worship is basically the same between all the denominations give or take a few participational variants and incense waves. The biggest difference you ask? Music traditions and prescriptive theology or descriptive theology. But by and large, yes, we are the same. And while some of our baptismal practices and traditions do vary which would be a point of contention with many of my readers, truthfully, we have much more in common than not even in our interpretation of baptism. The fight is always semantic.

If life would allow it, I’d take a piece of each tribe and pull it together to make something amazing; a beautiful conglomeration of Christian faith and practice. Which I pray is what God sees as He looks into our many gatherings. I pray He sees our love for Him amidst the diversity of His creation, rather than our intentional divisions because we don’t play well together. I dream of a fellowship of all believers. We need it. Our country needs it. Our future depends upon it. And Christ prayed for it.

My heart breaks when I think about how merging just two denominations would wreak havoc amongst us, because that is exactly what should happen. But we, the prideful, always right in our way, would disallow it. And we, the pastors and ministers, comfortable in our pulpits would feel threatened and defensive about our own heritage rather than the heritage of Jesus Christ’s plea for unity, His last plea by the way. 

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” John 17

Somehow the Gentiles and Jews figured it out in the early church, but take a old school Church of Christ kid and put them in a room with a conservative Baptist and it will be a biblical bloodbath…and not in Christian love. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Oh and Catholics, do they count as Christians? Didn’t Luther clear that up for us? On that we can agree with the Baptists- Catholics are all suspect.  Here’s my confession, I’ve learned a whole lot from Catholics over my years, and if we would listen, we all could. In fact, the greatest lesson that I’m taking from this year, is how I feel protective of all these people in these different houses. And I’ll defend them. And I respect them. But that is what happens when you enter a relationship looking for truth, authenticity, and commonground. You make relationships. Lasting relationships sit in the dissonance of disagreement side by side working toward the same goal.

If you find yourself on a team with believers whose first goal is to disprove the theology of the church down the street, gently remind them that there are people walking this earth who see our divisions as evil. Christ said they would know us by our love for each other. And to the world, Christians all fight for the same team…until they start fighting with each other. Then the world shakes their confused heads, and tweet about us and call us crazy. Get to work, church, and reach out to the people who don’t already know Jesus. Listen more assuming you don’t have all the answers, and refuse to live in fear of people outside your walls who also read the bible.

Finally, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to take a journey like this, I encourage you to do so– IF you do so to find commonality. If you go in guns blaring for bible blasting, your intentions are not pure. You are a divisive spirit. Jesus is the great equalizer. Make finding Him your goal and you will.

Next time I’ll share our best and worst experiences. Including a hilariously nearly racist moment that will live on in Blanchard lore forever. Then I might share some insights from my kids once I get their permission. Sharing this journey with them has made our family pretty tight.
If you have specific questions about our experiences, please don’t hesitate to message me or leave a comment.
I hope you don’t give up on me. I am a work in progress until my Savior calls me home. Until then, you are loved.