I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. John 15:15
Jesus’ perspective is friendship. He calls us friends. I think this cannot be understated. My constant cry for friendship is not coming from my own perspective; it is the perspective of Jesus too. If God is calling us friends, then why are we not friends to each other. Are we not the image bearers of God?
This past Sunday, I preached a sermon I am really proud of. I have been listening to the Spirit and she revealed a deep truth to me in a passage I would normally read right over with little thought to the depth of what was happening. I will post it here because I want to talk about my friend Teri, Teri Colleen King. She is one of my nearest and dearest friends in the world. She even called me after listening to this message and shared her sacred tears with me.
Want to know something really wild? This sermon happened exactly two years after Teri had to retire from her church. The Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Teri served faithfully for forty years as a faith leader, but her authentic body was not accepted by the church body. She preached about baptism—Jesus welcomes all who will come. She retired right after that message because she was not welcome as a transgender woman. I did not know this timing when I talked about her at the beginning of my sermon which inspired the message. The Spirit is at work mending what hurts. Teri and I, while both very hurt by the Church, still love and believe in the Church with all our hearts. We believe she can be better.
When we share our stories it is not our perspective, it is part of the family story. A story a friend needs to receive. It is to be integrated with the existing story that has been allowed to flourish. I wish seminary and church would stop using that phrase—“your perspective” —when we are sharing deep and personal stories to help shine a light on something the church needs to address. It causes us to talk past each other and not receive the story of our sibling who needs to be heard, affirmed, and valued. Our experience will also influence how we read scripture; it is supposed to. This is also what Baptists believed at our foundation. Doctrines, creeds, and rituals were always the things being overturned when the time revealed people and creation were being overlooked by a disembodied faith.
The Spirit is calling for integration. Our stories are not separate from each other. If we want to know why people are leaving the church, it is largely because people are not being treated as human. Trying to fix things and compromise when people share their sacred stories is hurtful. People are not known. Beliefs are more important than our neighbor’s pain. Beliefs are more important than truths revealed that contradict the long-held beliefs.
I know changing a story that has given people grounding for a long time is traumatic, even if that story was not good news for them either. I can testify with gymnastics. Seeing USA Gymnastics for what it has been, even though liberating me from the shame I have felt for so long, has not been easy for me—at all. I have made a lot of changes in the last four years because my world has been crumbling all around me; I wanted to find life. Going through the pain is leading me to life and renewal. It works! But I got therapy to help me, and a few good friends who stayed by my side. I still believe in goodness. I believe the Spirit is at work restoring all that is broken. I can hear Julian of Norwich saying: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
When people say church is the loneliest place—I can hear that clearly now. Wisdom is crying out in the streets. Wisdom is borne from our wounds. I saw this quote: The wound is the place where the Light enters you—Rumi. I am not sure why the church ignores the wounds of the broken-hearted. Jesus body was broken. The resurrected body is what we should be aiming for for all the broken bodies among us.
A church without conflict is not an indicator of a healthy church. The Spirit works in the ache. A church willing to dig into the depths of our humanity and have the hard conversations and live the awkwardness is a healthy church. This leads to friendship and integration.
I wrote this on Facebook today and want to document here as well.
Y’all, you know how napping is part of my spiritual practice? When I take a nap at work, that is considered part of my spiritual health—not messing around on the job. Of course I took a nap today since I woke up at 3:30. I have the best office for these nap—and to do yoga (also highly effective in treating my anxiety and trauma. Lots of healing work happening in my office). I am truly grateful for this gift. I am being restored enough to stop trying to control everything. Naps are a part of the receiving part of the journey – our constant giving/producing is about control! I just heard this on a podcast with Glennon Doyle who had Luvvie Ajayi Jones on as a guest. Before I go into that let me tell you something else—
I took a nap earlier this week listening to Glennon’s podcast—both times I woke up at the exact moment I needed to hear a specific message. Receiving rest allows me to hear what I need to hear at the right moment.
Earlier this week Glennon talked about her inner knowing. She always knows what to do. It cannot be about what is right or wrong—that is on someone else’s compass. What her inner knowing is about is knowing what is true for her. This resides in all of us. But we have to receive enough care for ourselves to know what it is. This inner knowing will challenge us and make us uncomfortable, but it is also how we live our most interesting and unique lives. Freedom. That is what radiates into the world. Freedom not as the world defines it—no, this freedom does not harm neighbor or creation. It offers life to all creation.
Today’s message was even more profound. It was about friendship. (You know how I like to call everybody friends? Well, that comes with a lot of responsibility).
- When we come to our closest person in free form, we will come with our worst selves at some point, and we will feel guilty. We need to be a disrupter that can receive feedback—within a framework
- Part of receiving is listening and apologizing when we go too hard.
But here is the kicker part—it is about friendship:
- Deep friendship requires sharing and vulnerability—and room for failure.
- We will fail b/c we are going to drop the ball on someone’s feelings, it is inevitable. So, how do we make it safe for them to do it again? (Share again)
- When someone shares their story with you, you are being gifted with a sacred gift. So, if you return the story to the person who shared this gift with you and it is unrecognizable to them, that is the loneliest feeling in the world. Even if it is 1% off. It feels like no one knows the person whose story has been dealt with in defensiveness instead of care, and they thought they were living in community.
- This is where an apology is so important. It is not about having the argument – that is going to happen- it is how we repair what has been damaged. I am sorry I stepped outside of my integrity and made you feel unseen, unheard, and unaffirmed—even unloved.
I feel like this is a really important message to all of us—and to our respective faith communities. I met someone recently who said this: You can be in a room with people who are so kind to you, but they also do not know you at all.
Luvvie says when she calls someone a friend, she means it. Friendship means we are going to take some responsibility for someone’s care. We are going to have skin in the game for their well-being. So we can’t call everyone a friend.
This is deep.