Oh man, oh man, do I love me some Kathy Escobar!
I started reading Kathy’s blog a couple years ago, and I was hooked. I don’t have too many blogs that I read EVERY.POST.THEY.EVER.POST. But I wouldn’t miss anything from Kathy! Her stuff is pure gold.
In late 2014, she published a book, “Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart”. I had it on my wish list for a long time, finally purchased it with birthday money in September, and FINALLY had a chance to read it a couple weeks ago. I devoured it.
“Faith Shift” is a book of hope for “spiritual refugees, church burnouts, and freedom seekers.” In it, Kathy maps out stages of a faith shift, giving language to the painful experience of fundamentally changing from a faith that is certain and features strong affiliation and conformity with your faith community, to a faith that is freer, more mysterious and diverse.
Kathy’s stages, Fusing-Shifting-Returning or Unraveling-Severing-Rebuilding, resonated deeply with my own experiences over the past several years, as well as my long-time love of stage theory and psychology. In Evangelical Christianity, there is a skepticism with secular fields of psychology, sociology, etc. There is a push towards Biblical Counseling rather than listening to liberal, humanistic psychobabble. I made sure to read the two negative reviews of “Faith Shift” on Amazon to see what concerns others may have with this book, and they were primarily along those lines.
If I hadn’t been so focused on becoming a missionary or church musician when I went to college, I probably would have studied psychology. In hindsight, I realize I hadn’t even considered other pathways to ministry because of the complementarian church culture that I was raised in. Deep down, I wanted to do Kingdom work. The only women I had seen doing Kingdom work (that was OK and celebrated in my tradition) were missionaries, musicians, and Women’s Bible Study authors and speakers. Oh, and let’s not forget mothers, the hands that rock the cradles.
During my freshman year at Gordon College, I took Psych 101 as an elective and loved it. A lot of my college education is a blur now, but I remember what I learned in that entry-level Psychology class. So I made sure to take the Psychology elective offered when I was in seminary. We read a book by James Fowler, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning“. This is one of my favorite books from my seminary education. Fowler maps faith development in similar ways as Kathy, from assimilation and certainty to “the wall” to a more open, gracious, loving perspective on faith and others. In a similar vein, I often send an article to friends by Rich Vincent, “Stages of Faith: A Map for the Spiritual Journey“, when I feel they are struggling and need some perspective that they are in process, that it will all turn out OK. Shorter and easier to read than a book!
As much as I have appreciated Stage Theory and how Christian authors have related this theory to faith development, I could never personally relate to the middle stage, “the journey inward,” or “the wall,” the season of doubt. My faith had been strong and sure most of my life. My Fusing stage lasted about 28 years, I would say, and Affiliation, Certainty and Conformity describe those years beautifully. There were bumps in the road, like when I was afraid that my faith would not mature if I continued to have a “perfect” life, so I prayed for hardship. Soon one of my best friends died at age 21 and I felt responsible and walked through a deep depression.
Then some more bumps came. Pretty traumatic ones. My home church chewed my family up and spit us out (at least that’s what it felt like). I was rejected by the people who were so much a part of my identity. My “perfect” family was imploding. God called me (a complementarian!) to pastoral ministry. I began reading about women in ministry and was warned about the “slippery slope” that I was on. My affiliation, certainty and conformity were being compromised!
I was Shifting and I didn’t know it. I wanted people to be real (Authentic), I was baffled to learn that my favorite theologians had said misogynistic, sexist things while I was beginning to see God’s vision for equality and partnership between the sexes, which led me to be uncomfortable with authority figures (Autonomy), and I felt like I needed to study EVERYTHING.FOR.MYSELF (Uncertainty), while again, being real about my struggles and weaknesses–no more projection of perfection. I became an Ex-Good-Christian-Woman (my FAVORITE Kathy Escobar post!!!).
The way that Kathy writes is utterly gracious. She never categorizes any part of a faith journey as bad, or better than, or wrong, or anything. She just lays it out.
Are you experiencing this? Here is some language to help you understand.
You are not going crazy and you are not alone.
There was a profound change in the way that I saw God a few years ago while I was watching Brennan Manning preach on YouTube. I wept as he poured out God’s love and grace in his message that God loves us just as we are, not as we should be. I have always believed that God is love. But I think Affiliation, Certainty and Conformity were chains that kept me from experiencing God as love. There were always rules and expectations and pressures and systems that kept me in check, that made God’s love seem conditional.
Because God’s love is unconditional, I can ask questions without fear or guilt. I utterly Severed from my Fused faith as I let Brennan Manning confer a God of grace and freedom to me. I am Rebuilding my faith around this new understanding and am seeing things through this new lens. I expect to make mistakes and to be a work in progress. I am full of gratitude to God for being bigger than any box that I had ever put Him in, for loving me and pursuing me and holding me safe.
And I am thankful for Kathy Escobar’s writing and this book in particular, that has helped me to understand my faith development and trust that change is a natural part of being in relationship with God. Kathy closes “Faith Shift” by saying,
Trust the path ahead, even though you aren’t sure exactly where it will take you. You’re not lost. In fact, you’re on a road toward a bigger, better relationship with God, others, and yourself that will continue to develop.
The world doesn’t need more fear-filled, insecure Jesus followers. It needs more peace-filled, secure ones. It doesn’t need more people deciding who’s in and who’s out on earth and in eternity. It needs more men and women who are passionate about drawing everyone toward the love of God.
Throughout the years, I have seen over and over again how this path leads to new beginnings, not endings, if we just keep walking.
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