Outlier


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Outlier. The word intrigues me. I’ve been chewing on it for a couple of weeks, wondering if this word relates to me or not? I am beginning to identify with it. I also wonder what creates an outlier? Could it be that outliers have a somewhat common experience of the world, or a common way of looking at it? Do outlier’s share certain personality traits? Might understanding some of these things help me to unpack my struggle with the elusive sense of belonging in any church?

What is an outlier? Or another word I’ve heard of late is “done,” though I don’t like that word as much. An outlier is defined as a person or thing situated away or detached from the main body or system, and a person or thing differing from all other members of a particular group or set. In a church context this is a challenging type of person, because one of the things churches wish to do is create community, belonging, family. The church wants to draw all people in, most especially the outliers. But what if the outlier cannot be drawn in?

Maybe it’s best to start with my personal journey in and out of the doors of churches. I’m curious to see what I can mine from my story. Let’s see where it goes. Please join in with your thoughts on this as I can only speak to my own predispositions and experiences. Please join in especially if you self identify as an outlier.

First stop, my church story.

Born into a fundamentalist christian sect, I grew up in the church, the eldest daughter of an elder, and from the start I was a good girl. There were so many teachings from my formative years that are vital to my story; purity culture, end times prophecy, the inerrancy of scripture (literal interpretation), male headship, within a small church where whose you were mattered. I struggled to fit in. I was not athletic, chatty, outgoing, and my father was an Elder. I was doomed socially. I loved books, art, time on the family farm, the quietness of the garden, music. I understood God to be rules, love to be conditional, and relationships to be complicated.

Leanings: introverted, with artistic ability, kept from culture (in the world but not of the world – rules against movies, drinking, dancing, smoking, swearing, etc.) and pushed to the social margins of church. Pleaser. Somewhat repressed.

I invested and persisted with church through to my senior year of high school, when I concluded that while church youth didn’t like me, non-christians did. I found friends outside church. I found a capacity within me to rise to intellectual and artistic recognition by applying myself with good old work ethic. Work was easy. You either worked hard, or didn’t. Achieved or didn’t. I had part time jobs, and enjoyed making money. I had long been aware that the kids who rejected me at church were not who they pretended to be. I didn’t call it integrity at that time, or recognize my bullshit detector, but I knew intuitively who was to be trusted, and who was not. I especially found this perplexing around church leaders who lavished love and belonging on some, but not on all, and in particular not on me. I didn’t feel sought after or special. At church. On my grandparents farm and in nature however, my heart sang. 

Leanings: intuition, a felt sense of what is truth and fiction, strong work ethic, a desire for more – self improvement, environment improvement, love of the natural world, no nonsense approach to things. Sensitive. Quiet. Curious.

In my final year of university I was excommunicated from the church. What was my crime? I married a Catholic. I’ve written about this before on this blog. Any sense of lingering belonging I may have had within the church of my childhood, no matter how challenging it had been, was ripped away from me for choosing to love someone who I was told did not belong. I took it all on the chin and carried on. For 35 years.

Leanings: trusting, until trust is broken, judging of others and self, introspective and curious, educated, seeking, idealistic, keen, resilient, stubborn.

Marriage, career, the upheaval of moving across the country and starting over, 3 children in 5 years, and church again became part of my life. Healing began as I discovered a different church culture and within it God’s grace and love for me. But his people continued to create havoc in me. In particular I struggled with what it meant to belong, what was required to fit in, and how fleeting that belonging seemed to be. When I served I felt belonging. When I did not I felt invisible. This sense continued over years, but I pushed it down, pushed through. Perhaps mega church was an odd choice for someone like me, but that’s where we found ourselves at last…with good friends, good children’s programs, good teaching, and a good life…fast forward 22 years to a place I could no longer abide by what felt like duplicity or confusion or plain old unanswered questions around the love that supposedly defined the place, yet denied certain people groups.

Leanings: social justice, righteous indignation, taking a stand on behalf of others, questioning of doctrine, theology, and black and white thinking.

Retreat, full on. No church. For a couple of years. Followed by testing out a few options. Nothing seemed to draw me. I went to the beach and thought about nature’s beauty. I wrote poetry and thought how like prayer it was. Slowly and incrementally God became more real to me in ways that had nothing to do with church, and all to do with a personal experience of his love. I found elements of Christianity…Desert Fathers and Mothers, contemplative, liturgical, great theological writers and poets, resonant thought…and at the same time felt a warning to proceed with great care…to not jump from one box into another, to not exchange one language for another…but to find a way to live in integrity with Christ, myself, and others.

Leanings: willingness to say I don’t know, willingness to hold unanswerable questions, willingness to withdraw and be solitary, seeking, asking, disillusioned, hopeful.

35 years after I’m put away from my childhood church, this happened. Another layer is peeled back and I recognize how my excommunication was spiritually formational. Big time.

Leanings: personal trauma, a desire to make sense, and overcome. Willingness to do the work.

Of note here is I carry my peculiar sense of things to the world, not just church…I also feel apart when I consider society and culture. What appears to matter to many folk, just doesn’t to me. I weigh things, and I find so many of them wanting. I am peculiar, one who finds it hard to relax, play, give myself over to pleasures. I can’t imagine retirement. I seek meaningful pursuits, and often give more to others than I give to myself. I’ve been told I’m too hard on myself, am my own worst enemy. I wonder what it’s all for, why I am the way I am.

Still God persists with me.

I find myself volunteering at a church run street mission, facilitating a poetry circle for those experiencing homelessness and marginalization. It is an evangelical Christian organization but I find a way to participate without having to give answers for myself. I dip my toe in the water of belonging. I join staff. I apply work ethic and creativity. I create things. I instigate things. I still sense there is a divide between the in crowd and me. I don’t know why but it haunts me. I cannot abide group think or conformity. I still have so many questions. Am I creating my own sense of marginalization?

Leanings: self knowledge, independent spirit, lived experience of God’s presence, creative energy, rebel, brave, lonely, leadership tendencies.

Present day. Again I step back, and wrestle every Sunday to go to church. Staying home wins out more often than not. When I do go I spend time listening, and watching. I sense intimacy between others in the group, I long to be asked to do something, I long to be seen. I am seen more by my street friends than by the staff. I offer my help, I facilitate a study, continue to visit my street friends, but I know I am again on the outside looking in. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in. I wonder if being in is like “The Borg”…a form of assimilation? If so, I sense I will never experience that feeling because I am attuned to it, repelled by it, and run from it. The very idea of conformity stands against who I am, rightly or wrongly.

Leanings: a strong sense of personal mission, a strong sense of God’s leading, learner, seeker, fragile, indignant, willing to speak out and bear the cost most days.

How do I interpret all this, I wonder? I think it will take more thoughtful consideration. Someone suggested I look at my Enneagram # and consider how that informs my sense of belonging. Do I set myself against the very thing I believe I am longing for…belonging? Is there too much about how the church operates that is against my grain, so that in some ways, the church repels me?

This I know, I continue to see the beauty of the church and her ability to bring love and hope and mercy and justice to those who are in great need. I believe passionately, and I am not all in with everything, and I continue to have some deep questions. God has not left me, Jesus is walking with me. I may not align completely with the church but I have not given up having a place and purpose there. I have a sense that being an outlier matters to God…

Thoughts?

 

Birthday Gifts


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What is filling my soul this morning, the anniversary of my birth, so long ago;

Well, finding this silly picture that makes me look like a birthday fairy queen, I guess…

And this…grounding me, confirming I know nothing, but…

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 1999), 79.

And this;

  1. relationships that continue to ask of me…and give to me…and the beauty of discovery within the complexity of life with people, these gifts that I will never truly understand and yet there they are, talking, breathing, working, living alongside me and I get to be with them all…
  2. anticipating the arrival of my son, and the intersection of 5 lives over several days…oh the anticipation of all that…
  3. a unexpectedly delicious poem, written by my lover, posted to Facebook.
  4. the dog, coffee, porch, quiet, sunshine, bluebird day, time, space, lingering…
  5. messages of love on social media
  6. challenges and considerations…each day to choose what is important, what is vital, what is life giving, and what adjustments must be made to live with integrity
  7. creative energy…that vast stream of Creator God’s creative DNA that flows and overflows in me with thoughts and ideas and possibilities and just enough courage to try something new…
  8. health, dreams, desires, all those elements that make up a life and are often taken for granted and yet are foundational to living well…
  9. writing, always writing, listening to the inner voice speaking and writing, playing with writing, writing with people, reading and writing, writing, writing, writing…
  10. the audacious pink thread of The Trinity woven through the simple fabric of my life …often hidden, sometimes apparent, but there…oh yes, there!

Gift. Gift. Gift. All gift.

Undeserved. Thankful. Gifts held with the knowledge that this may be for a day, a month, a few more years. Breath held for a few seconds, then breathing, breathing, wondering…what happens next?

Lesley-Anne Evans, July 29, 1962 – ?

 

 

 

Small


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My faith is small, or maybe the way I live my life is small, and ordinary. In small things I find God: his presence, his provision, his orchestration, his glory, his love.

When I recognize God in my life, it usually comes in the form of just enough rice or just enough flour, or sun breaking through cloud before sunset after several days of depressing grey, or a poem just right for the moment, or the colour of a pair of mittens matching a child’s snowsuit I’ve never seen before, or the heart shape of trembling aspen leaves strewn along a creekside pathway. God is in the shade of orange kelp on sand. God is in a small child spinning in a pink tutu. God is. I have come to notice God in all the details.

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I believe my Grandfather taught me to see God in this way. When I was very young, Grandpa walked me around his garden on summer evenings, our hands clasped behind our backs, each flowering shrub like an offering, a miracle he had discovered and wanted me to see. “Look at that” he would say, gazing deep into the centre of a Hibiscus bloom “have you ever seen a design like that?” “Rosa, Spiraea, Forsythia, Weigela, Hydrangea…” he repeated over and over until I knew them. Name these plants, see these small miracles. He was the same about song birds. His curiosity and joy of creation spilled over and captivated me. Little things. Seeing small. Seeing God.

Not that I don’t dream big. I love to dream and drink wine and talk about ideas. Not that I don’t dive into big things, because I do. But the dreams and projects and ideas must quickly settle into a series of little steps to realize the bigger picture. And maybe it’s not the big thing that matters as much as the little things that take place along the way. Usually, that means the people, conversations, conflicts, resolutions, and love. Each little interaction, each small encounter, mattering so much more than any end result. God is in the details of people too, I find.

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My faith is small, and wildflower and honey bee sized. My faith is my search for tracks to hang gallery hardware on the wall and finding them no more and no less than I needed, and my faith is the width of several old doors that now cover windows, in exactly the right width for the openings. My faith is sometimes the size of these three words…”I don’t know”. My faith is the sound of my daughter’s joy that she drove stick shift for the first time over the winding road to the Pacific Rim, and back. Safe. Back. My faith is light and shadow, juxtaposition of words on a sign against audaciousness of spring blooms. God is in each one of these small and sacred things.

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My faith is small.

My faith is small, and simple.

My faith is small, and ordinary.

God is there.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said “God is in the details.”

God is.

Lesley-Anne

Spirit wrestler


jacob-with-the-angelThis is me taking a risk. I doubt that I am alone but it sure feels like it right now.

Thing is, I recognized yesterday that I am wrestling with something fundamental and HUGE. I admit my biggest struggle is what I will do with Jesus, The Christ. Jesus, the centre, the hinge of Christendom, and I am wrestling with what it means to say yes to the entirety of the Trinity – The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, three-in-one.

My heart has been troubled with this question for some time. Oh, I want to believe. I do believe, many days. Still my guts churn over what I perceive as the exclusivity of Jesus, his life, his death, his atoning sacrifice that right sides me with God, the Father. Because saying yes to Jesus means you can also say no. And saying no means…well, you probably already know where I’m going with this. And this empath with a social justice heart is deeply perplexed by the thought of that.

I hide my perplexity, mostly, because it feels embarrassing. My life indicates my clear Yes! to God, and Yes! to the Spirit, but when I unpack the theology around Jesus, The Christ, I get stuck. I resist. I say “BUT.” But what about those who don’t believe or don’t get it right? But what about those who have a strong belief system of their own? But is hell really real? But what is the limit of God’s grace? But, but, but…

I wrestle with God like I’m the gatekeeper for the eternal well being of all souls. I wrestle on in doubt and then belief and then I attempt to stand under the tiny bit of assurance I can muster up. I am conflicted. I wonder what this makes me?

A wise friend shared a story with me.

There was once a sacred gathering of people who came together to seek spiritual wisdom. Among them was a young man who had a spirit of negativity, of questioning, of smouldering resentment. This man carried that spirit into the holy place of gathering, and began to share his discontent with others. One elder considered him with great love, listened to what he had to say for a little while, and then offered this;

Go outside. Dig a deep hole. Place your head and shoulders down into the hole. Shout your complaints to the earth. Then, when you are done, come back and join us.  

I have been carrying my complaints for several years…too long. I have made them heavy with meaning and power. My complaints stand between me and the freedom of The Way.

Truth is I WANT, but do not NEED, answers from God. Who am I to demand, to arrogantly suggest that God explain himself to me? I am one human, being. Who do I think that I am?

Perhaps here is where I must dig my deep hole?

Part of me resists…LORD, have mercy on me.

Hush, hush


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Hush, hush

Quiet me, LORD.

Hush, hush.
Your love transcends
my dialect of anxious fears,
soothes my flesh
with tender words
that still my trembling,
quiets my questioning lips,
stammering, and striving,
reveals your truth is
there, there, and here.

Hush, hush.
You teach me to practice
a foreign tongue
of sighs and weeping,
soul speak,
communion
of broken bodies
and body water
turned to holy wine.

Hush, hush,
in bare footed remembrance,
my shoes removed from road weary feet.

LORD, God,
consume me within your radiant presence,
my spirit burns in silence.

 

Welcome, love and fear


DSC_0593Every human being is motivated by either love or fear, he said, in every  action ever taken. I contemplated his statement, wondering how true it really was for me. Just as I held each statement this wise counselor spoke, and everything I said as well, weighing out my authenticity, the truth of my disclosures. Was I creating something more, or simply telling my story?

So, he asked, when is the last time you were able to say I trust you with my life, my love, my everything? I don’t know, I said. Maybe never. There is no right or wrong answer, he said, it’s just what you know is true in your life experience. How could this be, I thought, have I never fully trusted, have I never felt freedom in love? My mind jumped back 30 years, then more recently, then to last week, and the reason for seeking counsel in the first place. My lack of trust, and my longing to belong, and what did it all mean?

The conversation continued to how mistrust of others and a possible deeper underlying fear of rejection can result in missing out on the beautiful potential of enjoying the fullness of loving community. Fear of rejection leads to withdrawal and isolation, and the vicious self perpetuating circle of fear, mistrust, and withdrawal from relationships continues. Allowing myself to fully engage in loving community could break down my walls, crack open my heart, and trust and belonging would grow. But fear of rejection is undermining what I desire. I wonder, is this true of me? Really? I want to argue it. I want to ignore it. I want to call it psycho babble.

Today I experienced how my view of life impacts not only me but my family. And I felt a little sick to my stomach as I considered the truth; my fears are rippling out into their lives. So maybe identifying the core issue and making room for a new reality is the way forward? Rather than denial or avoidance, to welcome all in, in a new way, following some recent teaching at SoulStream, Living From the Heart. I have been learning a posture of opening to the difficult and painful things in me that need the touch of Jesus. It is called Welcoming Prayer. I feel it may be the way…in this quiet welcoming way of the heart. And so I say…

Hello fear, welcome. Hello mistrust, welcome. Hello self protection, welcome. Hello rejection, welcome. Hello disappointment, welcome. Hello hunger for love, welcome. Hello. You are welcome here. You too are loved.

The good book tells me Jesus was despised and rejected of men. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Who better to understand what I do not yet, than the one who knows me and these newly defined feelings, from his firsthand experience. Who best to be with me as I welcome all those things that make me much afraid…

Jesus, what would you say to me in the presence of all my fears and feelings that we have welcomed here together? What would you say to my heart? I’m asking…

Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Come, my beloved. Bring your love and your fear to me. All is welcome here. Come and rest in me. Just come. Let us consider these things together.

Finding a more gentle way…remembering my excommunication.


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I didn’t expect to feel it in my body, my heart. The SoulStream facilitator lead us to recall examples of feeling like a stranger. I casually offered up the time I was excommunicated from, “put out” of, the church of my formative years. I shared how my faith family unrelated by blood yet named aunties and uncles and almost cousins, formally rejected and turned their backs on me in a final “just” response to my engagement to a man who was not of their choosing.

And maybe because I knew what was coming all along, maybe because I had hardened my heart, maybe because my love for my fiance transcended this outcome, I have borne that experience as a natural and even deserved expression of my actions. I was put in the “outside place.” How unlike the Jesus I now know. But that was then.

I have always been an elder’s daughter; in later years it carries little weight for me. I love my father, his intellect and sensibilities. But back then, being my father’s daughter carried a mysterious resistance to inclusion in my peer group, most obvious in the way all the girls were asked out on dates, but never me nor the other elder’s daughter. Was it my hair colour, wardrobe, body shape, struggles with pubescent acne, or was it something deeper, I wondered?

Being an elder’s daughter meant not being in the church it crowd, not being in anywhere. It was difficult. Because what was a good Christian girl to do socially? To be of the world but not in the world meant I was not at liberty to choose outside friends.  School day relationships remained that. Our lives revolved around the church. So, the other elder’s daughter (my dear friend to this day) and I tried to find a way to be. We knew some of what went on, some of what was meant to be kept secret from the powers that be. We somehow accepted that if our Dads were a problem, then so were we. But we were lonely at times. Misfits. Outsiders.

Fast forward to last week, and being on retreat with SoulStream for the first intensive of Living From The Heart, and me telling my story of what it was like to choose to marry a Catholic, to choose to proceed with what was considered being unequally yoked, to choose to choose him, rather than remain part of a community of believers to whom I once longed to belong.

I told my story as I have told the story for thirty years, dry eyed, matter of fact, the facts expressed and compassion within only for my husband who had been excluded along with me. Someone asked me why couldn’t I marry a Catholic? I tried to explain. Again I shared how hard it was for my husband. And then strong feelings of anxiety (common to me), began to traverse from my guts up to my chest and my breathing became laboured. I felt as though I was having a heart attack. It felt as though something was constricting my chest. I was afraid. My body began to quiver, and my eyes prickled with tears as I tried to hold myself together. But I could not. I felt myself letting go. Silence in the room and then…

a voice quietly offered “I think we need to take care of this right here” and then someone was on their knees in front of me, and then other voices in the room were speaking words of acceptance and love to me. My tears flowed and my body heaved with the realization of the depth of what was hidden inside me, a key to how I have navigated my life until now…

Belonging…always searching to belong, to be accepted, to be loved, to be liked. Thirty years that can be traced back (perhaps, in part) to a moment when I was made a stranger. Thirty years since a letter was read in front of my church that said Lesley-Anne Clements no longer belongs.

And so I cried out, thirty years later. And I received gentle touch to my body and prayerful words spoken over me, my heart opening to receive healing from this little group of people I had known for only 6 days. They lavished me with the love of the Father, and their love. The same people whom I secretly feared, and felt somewhat removed from, for most of our week together, held me with the genuine kindness of their presence and words.

And then, someone asked permission to pray. I nodded, unable to speak. His prayer was deeply repentant, asking my forgiveness, standing in to take full responsibility for what the Church had done to me. I was shaken. I did not know my heart needed reconciliation. But a generous knowledge of what was required and then given, met my unspoken need.

More tears and hugs and a holy kiss on my forehead. I felt emptied and filled in. I felt like blinders were removed. Now I sensed I could move forward into being more fully me. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you. Peace and reconciliation lavished on me. Mercy. Grace. Love. Thank you.

There is more to the story, at a heart level, but for now I will hold that as a gift for me alone. And I will continue to see what may be required from here, because it has been suggested there may be further trauma to deal with, there may be more for me around this notion of shame, how my hunger to belong haunts me. It amazes me that such deep hurt can be lived out without any true recognition…until….

Even this week I am beginning to see how the choices I make and the people I care for and the communities I lean into, reflect my hidden wound somehow being transformed into a gift to others. I’m reminded of a verse that says it was meant for evil but God meant it for good. And perhaps it wasn’t intended as evil at the time, but the result of my excommunication was pain, separation, and exclusion of my heart to an outside place, far removed from God’s heart incarnate in those who professed it most strongly back then. You can perhaps see how this could cause confusion in my relationship with God. Yes, there may be more to unpack here.

But thank God that His heart has never left mine. Thank God that He speaks in new and gentle ways to the broken and lost parts of my heart. And I have to believe that He has an holy intention in all of this…it all belongs.

Several years ago I wrote a poem that reflected part of the experience of my last meeting with the elders of the church, a meeting which set the wheels in motion for my excommunication. I remember it clearly. Only now I also feel it with more clarity. I feel anger in my poem. I didn’t know then that there were deeper layers to be coaxed out, loved on, and in God’s time, raised from the grave.

Finding the Outside Place

Two of their kind arrive
at my door, just like with Noah,
only no females. Two elders
in dark suits, carrying
The Book, King James, leather bound.
I invite them in, keep
my appointment with
their Kingdom kind. Hear
the blame and shame
coming. Same as grade
school quiet flush, my hand
goes up to take the fall for
someone’s spilled glue.
How I save the class from
head-down-on-the-desk
time out.  These two cut
me in ways I don’t expect.
And me polite and
would you prefer coffee or tea
with one or two lumps of sugary
excuses for my errant behaviour?
(it hasn’t gone unnoticed
over several years). They sit
like bookends in rose brocade.
I practice active listening,
open faced to inherent
rhetoric. They proclaim
fundamentals, subtle
errors of my ways, the dire
consequence of marrying
outside the faith. All this and

the truth shall set you free.
They want to pray. I say
no. Thanks. (Maybe I say
more?)  They deliver
last rites. Exit, stage right.
Afterwards I gasp like one
fresh raised from the grave.