Rivers of Joy

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“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

The three of us sat equidistant across the table from one another. It was our staff meeting – the last before we go full-time church. We stared back at each other over our meals, eyes wide, one of us dared to state the obvious: We are starting a church.

To anyone who has been reading this blog you know this is nothing new. This is not a current revelation. This church has been in the works for three years and we’ve had two “preview” services. This is real and it is happening and none of us are sure we know what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

But I can say with certainty, in the midst of our national pain and difficulty. In the midst of our desperation for what is true and right and good. In the midst of our search for hope, this church plant is the one thing that brings me life. Sure, I have kids and a good partner and friends. But the holy and hard-won work of getting this body born, as gut- wrenching and confusing as it has been, this good work is what brings relief.

After each of our two services thus far, both friends and new acquaintances alike stopped me with eyes wide: Church can be like this? I didn’t think I could go to church again.

This dearth of churches offering just and generous expressions of the gospel is a serious problem. When church is full of shame and shoulds, aligned with empire and politics, while failing to be a safe and welcome and inclusive place for anyone who walks through the doors, we have a serious problem.

I grew up attending Billy Graham’s Crusades. The first was in Spokane, WA when I was 10. My parents were involved, singing in the collective choir. I remember the endless on and on of “Just as I Am” as folks seeking salvation filed forward in droves. I found the spectacle fascinating and a true testament to the love and invitation of Jesus.

But I’m unsure how to feel about Graham now in light of his recent passing. I am not that same person. And I shouldn’t be. I’m a grown woman with a grown up faith. But I believe the evangelicalism of Billy Graham left us with a navel-gazing theology that tempts us to call our own salvation, our own cleanliness and holiness the pinnacle of our faith journey, inviting others to do the same. And while I know it is important to take inventory, to recognize where we are inconsistent and where our shortcomings harm those we love the most, I don’t believe this is the end of the road. I don’t believe we can hang our hats on some spiritual arrival. I am concerned we’ve reduced God to someone we must appease, striving for perfection. I’m concerned our Christianity has been reduced to a scarce either/or rather than an abundant both/and.

And now we are experiencing the ramifications of Billy Graham’s evangelicalism. We may have clean and forgiven souls while our society suffers. What about the pain in the world? What about the power differentials, the oppression, the systems of superiority? Is the church complicit because it’s been so engrossed in the confidence of personal piety?

As of last count, I asked God to save me eleven times. Contemplating a life of fiery torment due to normal bouts of greed, selfishness, gossip. I trembled in my bed imagining a world where demons lied in wait for my soul. I believed my good was never good enough. It was all about me. My efforts. My sin. My perfection. My holiness.

With our national climate of partisanship and tribalism, I wonder if focusing on our personal sin isn’t helping. What about the collective sin of our whiteness? Of our collective sins of heterosexism, patriarchy, and income inequality? Any time one group is oppressed at the benefit of another, pressed further into the muck of poverty and prejudice we must confess, repent, and seek a better way. A way of Love. A way of faithful generosity. A way of justice.

And this is why I believe in the church. I long to experience community so I can learn, grow, and participate in a life that works out of love. A life that seeks to find and dismantle the structures that oppress, the systems that prioritize superiority. I want a community that roots out systemic sin and calls it out, participating in the wonder of grace, generosity, justice.

And this is where the joy lies. This is where the joy flourishes – in the working together that results in equality, equity, and justice for all. May the Church lead in this.

I have no doubt Billy Graham was a good man. I think he did the best he could with what he knew and what he believed – what we all believed. I wonder what awareness came to him later in his life. I wonder what he knows now.

I am grateful, thrilled, in wonder at this new body we have in Left Hand Church. There are good things happening in Boulder County. And the greatest byproduct, the greatest gift is joy. True, untarnished joy.