A few months ago, Nate was walking home from his local coffee shop where he works every morning, and around the corner from our home, he passed a woman shoveling her driveway.
If you met my husband in a normal social environment, you might describe him as quiet and reserved. He’ll engage in chit-chat and when things warm up, eventually delve deeper (True story: the first three times I met him, he barely offered more than a grunt to me.). But Nate is also the son of a US Army officer and spent his entire childhood moving every two years all over the world. Nate is not shy. He’ll talk to anyone. And so it was no surprise to me when he came home that day and told me he’d introduced himself to the woman around the corner, who, it turned out, was married to a local pastor in a neighboring church. He struck up a friendship with them both and, finally, we were able to set up a dinner together last week.
Halfway through dinner, the subject of Israel came up and particularly the trip I’ll be leading to Israel this fall. One of them recommended James Martin’s book JESUS: A Pilgrimage to me, and a few days later, Nate found the book on the shelves of our favorite local used bookstore and brought it home for me.
I haven’t yet read the book (I’m saving it for later this summer when I have more time/space to read, along with a pile of other works I’m reading in preparation for our trip), but I read the introduction this morning. In it, Martin reminds us of this historic anecdote:
“[Thomas] Jefferson preferred his own version of Jesus, not the one he found in the gospels. Like many of us, he felt uncomfortable with certain parts of the man’s life. He wanted a Jesus who didn’t threaten or discomfort, a Jesus he could tame. . . After studying Jefferson’s edited version of the New Testament. . . scholar E.P. Sanders concluded that the Sage of Monicello created a Jesus who was, in the end, ‘very much like Jefferson.’”
I am not yet ready to disclose the content of my work in progress, but much of it has me thinking about the ways we in the church have preferred a Jesus who didn’t threaten or discomfort, a Jesus very much like whatever our preferred political party or news platform, our denomination or seminary portrays Jesus to be, and how woefully we have seen that fail in recent years. Sometimes when I look at the lives of those I knew ten or twenty years ago, and the platforms they espouse in the name of Jesus, I’m horrified. And I guarantee you that some of those same people are horrified at the positions I’ve taken in the name of Jesus. I have literally been called “an enemy of the church” and been “marked” (in their words) as dangerous.
This morning I was listening to Krista Tippett’s recent interview with Barbara Brown Taylor and BBT said this, “People are talking about loss of faith, loss of God, and I think it’s loss of church.”To be clear, BBT is talking about the local church (and I sense in particular the American church), not the church universal or the global church. I can’t help but agree with her. Even my own heart has felt so grieved and disillusioned by what I’ve seen in the American church in recent years, that I find it really difficult to just show up at our church. I used to be all-in, married for life to the local church, and now my love for her has waned. For a long time I was anxious about this loss of love, afraid that this was it for me, that I’d never feel joy entering the doors of a church again.
But a strange thing was happening in me simultaneously and I cannot explain it. The less church-oriented I became, the more enamored with Jesus I became. The less I organized my life around church events, the more interested I became in sitting with Jesus and asking him what would honor him regarding my time and energy. The less I only hung out with church people, the more I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit in my life. The more I came to know the love of God. It was the opposite of everything I ever thought would happen if I disoriented myself around the church and reoriented myself around Jesus. Instead of my money, time, energy, theology, wisdom, relationships being oriented around church-life and the church, they were now the overflow of a life enamored with the life of Jesus. Here’s the visual I’ve kept in my head and heart over the past several years of reorientation:
I can’t unsee the damage this former way of being did to me (and through me to others). It has helped me see exactly why I felt so crushed by the church at a particular period in my life, why particular leaders so deeply hurt me. It was because I centered my life around it and them instead of Jesus. Like it or not, whether I said it or not, I idolized the church over Jesus.
Now, in no way do I condone leaving the church permanently, the church universal is God’s plan for the whole world to hear the good news and the local church is the best model we have in the New Testament for organizing that plan forward. But if you, like me, have found yourselves bewildered and feeling a bit homeless, I want you to know that Jesus, in his entirety, is here with you, for you, in you, through you.
If you feel this sense of bewilderment or confusion or a desire to reorient yourself to Jesus, I want to invite you on one of the things that began the long process of disorienting me around the church and reorienting me around Jesus.
I went to Israel.
I had an embodied, physical experience in a place I could taste, touch, see, smell, and somehow sense Jesus in a way I never had before. I swore I wouldn’t be one of those people who go on a trip to Israel and proclaim how much it changed their faith, how it centered Jesus for them, and then I was, I am. Unabashedly. I had no idea that a year later, I would be in one of the most confusing church experiences I’ve ever had, feeling failed and hurt by leaders, and that it would begin a near decade experience of unleashing my grip on the local church as the center of my life. But it did. And all along the way, partially because of my prisma-color experience of Israel, the church didn’t grow smaller, but Jesus grew bigger.
Do you miss Jesus?
I can’t promise you’ll find him in Israel, but I’m praying you could.
We have a few more spots left on our trip this fall and if you’re sensing the the Holy Spirit drawing you to this trip, and perhaps worried about finances, I just want to be someone who says to you that when I signed up for my first trip in 2014, I had literally $400 dollars in my bank account. It was a total act of faith to sign up and God provided every cent. I hope you can come. I would love for you to come. I would love to be a witness to a whole new orientation for you and perhaps the healing or perhaps the undoing of what God is doing in your life.
Here’s the link to the landing page for A Curious Faith Pilgrimage.
Click on Download Brochure to read our itinerary and get all the pertinent details (don’t forget the fine print, that’s where you’ll find a lot of the answers to any questions you might have). If you don’t see the answer there, drop a comment below and I’ll try to find the answer.
When you’re ready, back on the landing page click on Enroll Now and choose the rooming option available for you, complete the application, pay the deposit and you’re in. (Full amount due in September.)
I really can’t wait to see what God does in each of our lives on this trip and because of it. I hope a Jesus you never knew comes alive for you.
Jesus: A Pilgrimage, James Martin, pg 4
Very interesting...I feel the same way about my relationship with the church and Jesus as you...what it used to be...and how it is now...
Well after being on your “free” list up until now, this post finally pushed me over the edge to paid subscriber because I felt so SEEN. I felt I can trust the theology of this one. ❤️ Politically and denominationally homeless is exactly where I’ve been living and it’s lonely and I miss the church even though I am — like you — very happily oriented around Jesus