I shared last week that I would spend the time between now and Easter inviting you to do the work of making room for the new life of resurrection. The world has changed dramatically in the three weeks since I planned this mini series, yet our forced time of rest and Sabbath from the movements of our daily lives seems to offer an even greater invitation to the kind of introspective work I sensed needed in our community and world. The work of planting Sacred Place happened more quickly than I could have imagined. This global health crisis forcing us into our homes has already allowed me time to step back and reflect deeply on where I am, how I got here, and where I’m headed—an inner work which started in me before the word “pandemic” became part of our daily vocabulary.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to travel to Scottsdale for a retreat with other faith and community leaders who are exploring and leading in theologically progressive spaces. Alison, our Communications Coordinator, joined me for this adventure which started with a far-too-early-in-the-morning-for-parents-of-toddlers flight. It was refreshing to be with others who are leading through many of the same challenges we are are. We were invited by our new friends at Launchpad, an organization which supports leaders starting inclusive churches. We got to share our story. We got to hear other stories. This work of planting an inclusive church in an area without any feels lonely sometimes. We were overjoyed to connect with others doing the work that we are—on the cutting edge of inclusive Christianity. Space was made for us to just be, to connect with God and dwell in our own individual stories. During one of the spiritual practices, I walked through my own journey of deconstructing and reconstructing my understanding of theology. That deconstruction process was strongest during my time in seminary when I reframed my thinking as I accepted who I was. The things I was taught about the world and humankind were rooted in tenets which didn’t really work for me anymore. It was a long journey to get to a place of inclusion.
Jesus does that work of deconstructing when he encounters Nicodemus. Jesus speaks of being born of the Spirit—language common in many churches today especially at baptism—yet, Nicodemus can’t fathom being born as an adult. The metaphor is lost on him. What Jesus is really talking about is identity. To be born of the Spirit is to accept an understanding that you are chosen and beloved by God—that you are not ruled by your humanity but the One who created you. Jesus is trying to shift his understanding of what it means to be human. I realized that work of deconstructing who we are is something I needed to do again—especially as a leader of a new church.
So often, identities are placed upon us whether or not we choose them. There are several which I have been carrying with me, and they only weigh me down. I realized I had not fully dealt with the difficult years that brought me to the joy of the present. When I first shared the vision for creating Sacred Place, some were excited for our work. Others called me a failure for coming to a congregation for my first call as a pastor and having that church close in just over three years. Without knowing our story, they made judgments and placed upon me an identity which I accepted and carried without realizing it. Some told me I was a bad pastor for not being able to save a congregation from a trajectory set in motion long before I arrived. Though I knew we were following the Spirit of God on this adventure to live our mission in new, bold ways, I forgot who I was at the core. I allowed others to define who I was as a pastor and leader. I hadn’t even noticed how heavily those false identities were weighing me. Releasing myself from that burden was so freeing. Reminding myself that I am beloved has enabled me to embrace identities that I had forgotten or been unable to accept. I am proudly a church planter. I used to say it was accidental, but it’s exactly who I am supposed to be right now. When I look at my perspective on life, I am first, and foremost, a storyteller. I cannot let expectations of who I should be prevent me from living into who I am called to be.
I invite you into a little bit of a spiritual practice. I want you to take a moment, look inward and see what identities are weighing you down. Write those identities down on a piece of paper and then burn them, tear them up, shred them. Let them go.
You are born anew.
Let that reality lighten your burden.
I believe that if we can do that momentous yet simple work, then we might just be able to live into who we are Created to be. This is your Sacred Place.