Is faith something that should always stay the same? Or is it something that evolves by necessity? Sarah Bessey, author of Field Notes for the Wilderness, talks with Amy Julia Becker about:
- Her evolving faith journey
- How to adapt and thrive in an evolving faith
- Making room for change, in ourselves and others
- Navigating the intersection of anger and joy
- How to discover what we’re hoping for, not just what we’re against
- How to embrace the gifts of an evolving faith
MY LENTEN RESOURCES:
Sarah Bessey is the author or editor of five books, including the New York Times bestseller A Rhythm of Prayer. Her latest book is Field Notes for the Wilderness: Practices for an Evolving Faith.. She also leads Evolving Faith, a conference and online community for people who are reimagining their faith with hope. Bessey lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with her husband and their four children.
On the Podcast:
YouTube Channel: video with closed captions
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Amy Julia (6s):
Is faith, something that should always stay the same. Or, is it something that evolves by necessity? How do we grow up with God? How do we know when our faith is changing in a way that allows for growth? When, if ever are we in danger of losing that faith altogether? I’m Amy Julia Becker, and this is Love. is Stronger Than Fear. I am back after a little break and I’m here today to talk with Sarah Bessey. Sarah is someone I have long admired from afar. She’s a bestselling author many times over. She co-founded the Evolving Faith Conference and hosts the Podcast of the same name.
Amy Julia (45s):
She’s a mom and a Canadian, and a truly lovely person who somehow manages to be both gentle and gracious and very firm and clear, and her convictions all at the same time. I’m really glad she’s here with us today. But before we turn to that particular conversation, I do wanna make two other announcements. One, the church season called Lent is coming. Lent begins next week. If you’re listening to this podcast near the time when it drops, lent begins on February 14th. And I have a daily guide through the season of Lent. It’s called On The Way, walking With Jesus Through the Season of Lent.
Amy Julia (1m 25s):
You can find a link in the show notes if you’d like to purchase a copy of that. And two second announcement. For the past few months, we have been taking a look at what I do and who I do it for, and we’ve asked a ton of questions about the ways I can make an offering into what is an already overcrowded space. The space of podcast is overcrowded. There are too many books, there’s too much happening on social media, and yet I wanna make a contribution there. And so I’ve been asking the question of how I can do that in a distinctive way that is in keeping with my calling. This has been a really fun and fruitful process. And I will be back here next week to tell you more about where we’ve landed and what that will mean for this podcast and for my other platforms.
Amy Julia (2m 13s):
But for now, here is my conversation with Sarah Bessey. I am here today with Sarah Bessey, author podcaster, co-creator of the Evolving Faith Conference, and so much more. And Sarah, I just wanna start by saying Thank you for being here.
Sarah (2m 31s):
Oh, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for the Invitation. I’m incredibly honored. So happy I was chatting with you ahead of time before we got on And. I. Just have been looking forward to visiting and getting to meet. You won’t meet in person on video, whatever it is, but it like, it counts by now. We’re gonna say that it counts.
Amy Julia (2m 50s):
Absolutely. No, I have felt the same way. And as I was saying to you before, sometimes I invite people to be guests on this podcast before I’ve even read a book, because I know that I just wanna have the conversation. So I have now read your new book, which we’re gonna get to talk about sitting next to me, field notes for the Wilderness. But before we get there, I was thinking about people who might not be familiar with you and with your work. I think I first heard about you after your book Jesus Feminist came out, which is 10 years ago. Yeah. So I’ve kind of been following, you know, from a distance for a while, but I’m sure there are people who have not been in that position who are listening to this podcast. So for people who are in that place, I’m just wondering if you could give us kind of a big picture introduction to Sarah Bessey, but especially as it relates to religion and spirituality and this, you know, kind of concept of evolving faith.
Sarah (3m 41s):
Sure. Well, let me think. Where would be a good place to start? So yeah, I’m a writer. So the book that you just read is, I think my fifth, the fifth that’s seen the light of day. There have be, there have been a few that will, my sister is under contract to burn Cassandra Austin, like at some point of Upon my demise. Wow. And so we won’t talk about those ones. But yeah, so this will be my fifth book. I wrote Jesus Feminist about, yeah, 10 years ago now. And in addition to that, there’s been a couple other books including a Rhythm Rhythm of Prayer, which came out a couple years ago.
Sarah (4m 22s):
And I, think a lot of folks might even have some connection because of my work with Evolving Faith, which is a conference in a community and a podcast that I started with my friend Rachel Health Evans and our friend Jim a number of years ago. And then continue to lead and be part of a team, you know, over there. So yeah, I think that those are probably the main places I read a newsletter. I’m from Canada, born and raised in Western Canada. I live in Calgary Alberta, but actually this is where I grew up. And then I left for 25 years and then came back. So I’ve got that kind of weird experience of like feeling almost haunted by like your teenage self when you come around corners so you can move through the city.
Sarah (5m 8s):
I’m a mom, I’ve got four kids. My oldest is graduating high school this year. My youngest is just in grade three. So we’re straddling a lot of different stages. Yeah. You know, of parenting. My husband, And I be married for, it’s coming up on 23 years now. And yeah, I think that’s, that probably should cover most of it, I think.
Amy Julia (5m 30s):
Yeah. We have some parallels in our stories and lives. I have written four books, depending on how you count it. There was a self-published one, so we might call it five. And also have my husband, And I have just returned to the place where we met, which is where we went to boarding school, so for high school. Oh wow. Yes. And so in terms of like running into your high school self at every turn, it’s very strange to be also doing that. So I can relate to that for sure. We only have three kids, but our oldest is also finishing up high school, so we have lots of things in common. But I’d love to go, I think about Krista Tippet, you know, the Host of UN being, her initial question for people is always like the talking about the spiritual or religious aspects of your childhood, And, I, wa I di was wondering, especially in terms of that thinking about returning to the place of your childhood, knowing also even just the language of evolving faith that religion and spirituality has not been consistent or consistent, might be the wrong word, has not been the same throughout your life journey.
Amy Julia (6m 36s):
And that’s a lot of what this book is about. So could you just talk a little bit about those early years of faith and or faith formation maybe? Like what was, what was religious life like in your childhood home?
Sarah (6m 51s):
That is, I’ve always loved that question. I, I know, I feel like that’s the kind of thing that I could sit if somebody quietly in a corner and talk about it at a party, which maybe tips the cards that I’m an introvert, please, let’s go sit in a corner and bypass small talk and get right to your just background. I know. So my parents are first generation believers and came to faith when I was a child. So we came to faith here in Canada, and especially in the areas where I grew up here in the prairies, it wasn’t, it wasn’t even that our parents’ generation was the last kind of Judeo-Christian in church kind of thing.
Sarah (7m 33s):
It was like my grandparents’ parents. Hmm. Right. Who would’ve had that, that kind of story. And so when we came to faith, it was, it, it felt like turning everything upside down and inside out in a lot of ways. And it was, you know, a lot of mainstream mainline churches were pretty empty in a lot of the communities that I grew up in. Yeah. And so I was unwittingly and, and at the time, you know, completely unaware maybe even of our place in, in the larger story of Christianity, but we were part of that third wave neo charismatic revival movement in like the eighties. Okay. And so small happy copy charismatic churches that met in like the leisure center.
Sarah (8m 15s):
And you’d play, you’d play floor hockey after church, you know, kind of stuff. Tongue talking like bootleg copies of American preachers on, you know, cassette tapes, you know, being passed surreptitiously back, you know, hand to hand. And so, I mean, in a lot of ways there were a lot of gifts to that. It was, you know, a whole community of people who were on a very first name basis with resurrection. Hmm. A lot of misfits, you know, a lot of us had no idea, but where we maybe stood in the larger story of Christianity that was unfolding in the world. But there were, there can be some shadow sides to that too. I think the areas where we kind of found ourselves were very heavily word of faith influenced prosperity, gospel influenced.
Sarah (9m 4s):
And so, you know, there can be some things that are, are great about that understanding. And then there can be some things that are profoundly, they will give you baggage. You were unpacking on the internet 30 years later, so and so that is where we have landed, but Right. So, I mean, it’s been a really beautiful thing. I think one of the things that I’ve really appreciated looking back now in particularly maybe as a parent, is how in so many ways it was almost like coming to faith alongside of my parents.
Amy Julia (9m 37s):
Yeah. How old were you when you, when your would keep saying we, which I kind of love, we came to faith, you
Sarah (9m 43s):
Know. Yeah, we did. Yeah. No, it did, it felt very much like a collective thing. I was in elementary school. Okay. And so I remember, you know, kind of life before and after, but it was a really beautiful experience. Like, I have really clear memories of like my mom coming to Sunday school with me. Hmm. Right. And them wanting her to teach it because she was a parent. And her being like, yeah, I don’t, I don’t know what any of this is, but I will be happy to hand out scissors and glue and hug every kid who comes in. And I remember her sitting in like little kindergarten chairs with me and her And I hearing stories about Jesus and looking at each other. And her being like, isn’t he amazing? Hmm.
Sarah (10m 23s):
And me being like, yes, Jesus is so beautiful. Yeah. And so, you know, this way of like, has meant that in a lot of ways, even the journey since then has been together. And so then even, you know, all these years later watching my parents have go through their own faith shift and their own evolving faith, their own, you know, clarifications. I think it has made them more open to even some of the things and shifts and changes that I’ve had because as opposed to seeing it as, you know, a rebellion against them and what they taught or whatever else, they see it more as we’re growing up together still. Hmm. Right. And we’re still growing and understanding growing in, in our love of God and our love of people together.
Sarah (11m 8s):
And so yeah. They’ve done a really great job about keeping pace with us. Hmm. You know, and and even staying curious. Yeah. You know, about things maybe where we disagree in places here and there. So I think that’s part of the reason for some of that language. I think some of the Gifts that I really love about that early way of understanding was it was deeply rooted in like the goodness of God.
Amy Julia (11m 30s):
Sarah (11m 31s):
And that’s something that I’ve held onto, even if maybe my way of understanding that has shifted and changed. You know, there was no part of me that was like, God’s out to get you, or God’s god’s always angry with you. Yeah. Or you’re being, these things are to punish you or whatever else. Like that wasn’t at all how I was introduced to God, And I don’t know at the time if I understood how much of a gift that was.
Amy Julia (11m 51s):
Right. Yeah, I agree. I think think that one of the themes of the book is just a returning to love and, and, and not returning in the sense of having straight away from it, just in the sense of like, we’re gonna keep going back here again and again and again. And also to Jesus, like, to this person who actually lived in a way that I can, when I am starting to feel like, oh my gosh, what, what do I believe? What are the messages that I want to adhere to and follow? And where is all this confusion? It’s like, okay, there’s some kind of touch points or anchors and at least my reading of your book was love and Jesus being at least two of those.
Sarah (12m 32s):
You’re not, you’re not wrong.
Amy Julia (12m 33s):
Yeah. There you go. So this is, so really early on in the book, you Right, everything I knew about God had become a giant question mark. And this is from a scene of you and your husband in the desert at a gas station. So that might, you know, signal for you what age you are. I, I can tell it’s kind of early on, but I’m not sure exactly when And I wondered if you could share with us what were some of those questions that had pushed you outside of the boundaries of that faith of your childhood and early adulthood where, what were, because I’m sure there are listeners who might be in that place of just like asking questions that feel like, oh my gosh. Like there may might be nothing there, there, you know?
Sarah (13m 13s):
Yeah, absolutely. So that my first experience with what maybe I now, now would maybe know to use language like deconstruction, you know, or faith shift, which is not language that I had 20 years ago would’ve been helpful to demystify and take maybe some of the angst and fear out of it. Right. Because it’s a profoundly isolating experience, especially when you’re deeply embedded in religious cultures and religious systems. And so at the time, I think a lot of the questions I had maybe masqueraded sometimes as questions about theology, but at the end of the day, I think where I found myself really running up against the origin point almost for almost all of it was grief.
Sarah (14m 0s):
Hmm. Right. And sometimes it would look like anger, sometimes it would look a lot like, you know, rage or frustration or numbness or, you know, even disruption. It was rarely pretty, you know, to be flailing all over my life. But there was this larger thing going on of, and again, I think almost everybody comes to that place or that threshold maybe from a different perspective. But because I had grown up in a prosperity gospel, word of faith kind of, you know, way of understanding,
Amy Julia (14m 35s):
Will you pause for a minute in case there are people who don’t know what prosperity gospel, word of faith means? Like, just give us that context.
Sarah (14m 41s):
Like it’s a profoundly American phenomenon within, within the American evangelical kind of religious landscape. And we were, we were part of it even in Canada. Right. And so in some ways there was some protection maybe from the border here and there in terms of like the intensity of some, some aspects of it that I’ve noticed, you know, since then. But it basically is this idea, you know, from a prosperity gospel perspective, that God wants to bless you. And because God wants to bless you, that means health and wealth. You know, it, it’s prosperity and body and finances and soul and word of faith oftentimes will cla in hands with prosperity gospel and say, you know, the, the words of scripture are promises from God quite literal oftentimes.
Sarah (15m 29s):
And so, you know, you can pray with authority. There’s this narrative of certainty and victory to it. Hmm. Right. And so coming of age in an environment like that meant that I, you know, you expected your prayers to be answered. Hmm. And you expected to have a life that was somehow not as human as everybody else’s. Hmm. And so this idea then began to really unravel for me at that time, I had a lot of questions about church, a lot of questions about how we do church, a lot of questions about the Bible and how we read the Bible. Yeah. A lot of questions about the stories that I had been told and the the ways that I’d always kind of understood how God moved through the world or those kinds of things.
Sarah (16m 16s):
So all those things were all present there. I had a lot of questions about women and women’s place and the, the church and women’s roles in the church had a lot of questions about how, you know, we, we looked at things like justice and peacemaking and, you know, having some sort of presence and awareness of the world. And so, I mean, all those questions were all there. But I remember the thing that I think really unraveled me was in my early twenties, in the early years of, of our marriage, we experienced just miscarriages one after another after another. Hmm. And the realization that like, I did everything right. I ticked every single box that I was told to tick.
Sarah (16m 58s):
And yes, still every Prayer went unanswered and every loss accumulated. Yeah. And there was no sense of like, well now what? Yeah. Right. What does it look like to no longer pray in this overcomer victory demanding kind of way any longer? But then what is the point of Prayer? What is, what is the role of God here? Like what does this even mean? What does it mean to grieve? Well, is there even room for grief in here? I remember later on, like years and years later, reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, learning to Walk in the Dark, and she talks about like, there being two different types of Christians. There’s solar Christians and lunar Christians. Yeah. And we were staunchly in that solar Christian world.
Sarah (17m 40s):
Yeah. Everything exists. Will you explain what that means? Yeah. The sun is always shining, right? Yeah. The sun is always shining. There’s this narrative of like certainty and victory and, and thing, you know, if this, then that if you do this, then this will happen. If you, you know, there there’s almost like this literalism to it, but almost a demand on it. Like an ex, like a very oral Roberts expect a miracle kind of dynamic. Yeah. And then this idea of like embracing things like mystery and grief and lament of, of being human and the, the experience of being human. That was, that was what kind of started, you know, really the whole process. Yeah. And so for me, that unraveling I think then led to the realization that like when, when you have a broken heart almost anything and everybody can kind of tumble in right.
Sarah (18m 34s):
To that, that breaking that can happen. And so that was even I think, really deeply tied to my first kind of awakenings of like, oh, there’s, there’s a whole world going on outside of my own small griefs and sorrows. Because again, very very Ordinary thing. Right. A lot of people have a story like that. Yeah. It’s hardly something that’s like, you know, odd or, or completely out of the realm of the experience. But it just so knocked me back that then it can open you up more to those larger things of like, well, what is, what does a life look like then? What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to to be part of the body of Christ? What does it mean? How do I understand scripture?
Sarah (19m 14s):
How do I understand my life? How do I understand all these different moving parts? And then of course, it’s like, you know, when you have a snake thread on a sweater, you pull it and it, the whole thing can kind of unravel. And that’s how that felt. Definitely.
Amy Julia (19m 26s):
Well, and so I’m curious in terms of, you’ve used the word deconstruction and not having had that word, you know, 20 years ago, but it is a word now that a lot of people are talking about in terms of a movement really among, especially evangel people who’ve come up through American evangelicalism and who are asking those same types of questions. And yet, I’m curious if you could speak a little bit about what it means to deconstruct, but also that, is there a contrast to the idea of deconstruction and evolving faith? You, you, you write about this a little bit in the book, but I, I just wondered if you talk about that in general, but also in terms of your own sense of, you know, was your faith deconstructed?
Amy Julia (20m 10s):
Was it evolving? What, what, how is that all working from that point of everything as a big question mark?
Sarah (20m 16s):
Yeah. I, I struggle sometimes with the word deconstruction, I think because it sounds so much more orderly than it feels. And, and so I, I don’t ever want to be overly critical of words that have been helpful in healing for a lot of other folks that have given name to their own experiences. So a phrase is like, deconstruction or faith shift or helpful for people. Like, there’s no part of me that wants to take that away. I think for me, the reason why I’ve grown to, to embrace even that phrase an evolving faith is, is maybe two. Two or threefold. I think it, it hearkens back to something that Father Richard Rohr talks about, which is learning how to transcend and include Hmm.
Sarah (21m 3s):
Every aspect of yourself or, or maybe all of the different versions of yourself that have existed. Yeah. As opposed to just kind of saying, well, you know, this old version of myself was, you know, not worthy of love or, or was so misguided or was so whatever else. I wanna bring those versions of Sarah along with me. I want to include the very earnest 8-year-old that I was Yeah. Who fell in love with Jesus. I wanna include like the very sincere overly zealous teenaged Sarah who was like, you know, born again all over again. I wanna include the Jesus Feminist version of me and the brand new know-It-all young mum that I was for a number of years on the internet, And I wanna, you know, bring along even the angry years, the years when I felt like there was nothing worth saving in Christianity, And I wanted to burn everything down and not be a part of it any longer.
Sarah (21m 59s):
Like all those versions of me all get to come along. Yeah. And they wanna be included. So I think that’s part of the reason why I like the phrase evolving faith. The other reason why is because of something that Rachel said at our first evolving faith gathering. Hmm. And it would’ve been back in 2018, just six months before she passed away. Hmm. And one of the things she talked about that first year was to say, an evolving faith doesn’t mean an evolved faith. It it doesn’t mean that it, that somehow you are so much further ahead that there is this element of like pridefulness to it. Yes. And, and that was kind of the spirit behind what she was saying, but one of the things that she actually said was that an evolving faith is a faith that is adapted in order to survive.
Sarah (22m 51s):
And in some ways I feel like that’s oftentimes where I have felt a lot of affinity is saying it’s, it’s not meant to be static. Like the whole, the whole point of faith is, is not necessarily to say, well now it’s done and dusted. I’ve got everything organized in a three ring binder every answer to every single possible scenario. I’ve got all my ducks in the row. Like, that’s, if you can get to the end of your life with the exact same opinions and beliefs that you had at the beginning, then you have missed the point. Right. And you have missed so many invitations from the Holy Spirit to grow and to change and to increase and grow in love and in strength and in wisdom. Yeah.
Sarah (23m 31s):
In relation not only to yourself and God, but to your neighbor and to the world. And so I think there is something there that I find really appealing. I know a lot of folks like the phrase deconstruction, And I, think I think it’s super helpful. But I wanted something that would include what happens next and what it looks like to maybe dream again, to reimagine, to include, to name harm and sorrow and lament while having room for like beauty and goodness and wonder and curiosity within faith that And I still really just have stars in my eyes about Jesus.
Sarah (24m 13s):
So that, that tends to hang on to
Amy Julia (24m 16s):
Yeah. And I’m, there are a couple things I wanna pick up on, on what you just said. One is just, there’s a chapter you have about not discarding things that you think you’ve outgrown, which you kind of just spoke to. But that sense of there are some things that you’re talking about kind of Marie koning your life and how, you know, we might think that minimalism is fantastic and yet there actually are a lot of things that it’s like really sweet to hold onto. And that you found in that process of kind of an Evolving faith, realizing that some of these things that might have seemed outdated or worn out at a certain time in your life have come back around as some, some things that are precious to you.
Amy Julia (24m 58s):
And I really appreciated that because both to the point of we don’t, like we can be tender with the parts of ourselves that I think I’m, as a Christian might have been embarrassed. I, I still feel a little embarrassed by myself as a teenager. Or like,
Sarah (25m 15s):
Listen, I had a bumper sticker on the back of my brown pickup that said, get a life, be a Christian. Okay. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you
Amy Julia (25m 22s):
Mean I didn’t have that bumper sticker, but I was the girl like handing out leather crosses in the hallway and like would be some sort of little piece of paper that was sick going to and like a hundred words or less tell you everything you needed in order to be saved. You know, like the end And I, look back on that. And I’m like, oh gosh, that is cringey. But I’m also like, okay, that, like, that heart, I, there was nothing insincere. There was nothing condemning. Like, I just, it was like, I have discovered the most beautiful, wonderful thing person, And I want you to know. Like, and And I wanna hold onto that girl who really, really loves Jesus. Even though I will never, ever, ever give someone a another cross again.
Sarah (26m 5s):
You know, I think sometimes too, like maybe, and maybe you’ve had this experience too, maybe Julia of like, I don’t know that this is the book I could have written in my twenties.
Amy Julia (26m 18s):
Sarah (26m 19s):
Right. Because the, the book that I would’ve written in the immediate intensity of my first experience with Face Shift. Now at this point I have gone through about 16 different types of deconstruction and 16 different types of, of faith evolution or whatever you wanna call it. There, there is something I think as you get older about learning to forgive the old versions of yourself. Yeah. Right. And learning to love those old versions of yourself, which maybe then gives you room to reclaim or maybe even repurpose. ’cause I mean, you certainly don’t approach those things the same way you did as a 15-year-old or as a 25-year-old or as a 30 5-year-old.
Sarah (26m 60s):
Like, you just, you’re going to approach things differently with a lot more story, a lot more relationship, a lot more community, a lot more, you know, perspective and experience. And I mean God, hopefully wisdom, you know, if we’re lucky. So, you know, you, you do kind of find yourself revisiting even old memories and old versions of yourself or old stories you told yourself in order to kind of, you know, move through those seasons with maybe some more clarity from that perspective, I guess. Or, or more forgiveness maybe. I think maybe that’s just it. Maybe at this point in my life, in my mid forties, I’m just a bit more hungry for grace and forgiveness and mercy than I’ve been Yeah.
Sarah (27m 42s):
And, I, And I when I was a bit more of a know it All.
Amy Julia (27m 44s):
Right. I mean, but it’s also, I wonder whether the experience of being a mom also where it’s like just watching your kids and being like, oh, I see you. I mean, and, you know, and And I remember those questions, And I don’t know. I’ve, I feel like they’ve helped me have a lot more kind of grace for myself. I also, the other thing, what you were just saying made me think about was in my early twenties, I was mid twenties, I was married, had been married for a couple of years, and my mother-in-Law was a single woman diagnosed with liver cancer. And so my husband, And I were her primary caregivers towards the end of her life. And she was a person who had been in and out of the church for a variety of reasons, the Episcopal church.
Amy Julia (28m 25s):
And she was, you know, kind of a liberal Feminist would’ve been the way I described her at the time. And I would not have meant that necessarily in positive terms at the time, you know, and she definitely was not coming from the type of Christianity that I was, much less the culture, you know, I’m from New England, she’s from New Orleans, all these things. And so And I felt really kind of threatened by her community in the sense that, you know, she has friends who are praying kind of nonchalantly like, I don’t know how serious they were, but Tab Buddha or you have people who are just calling upon the spirits to be present in this place.
Amy Julia (29m 6s):
And there were various, you know, Episcopalians at various points of devotion or not many of whom did not read the Bible. Were not talking about Jesus. All of these things. And yet being present and witnessing this community of people who showed up with the love of Christ, whether or not that name was ever on their lips day in and day out, I literally was like, okay, I have a choice here. Like I can either say, yeah, I know that guy. Like I know what’s happening here. And, I, And, I. Think what I, what I found, I remember remember at the time feeling like I’m afraid that if I let my understanding of God expand, what happens at the same time is that God becomes shallow.
Amy Julia (29m 52s):
And what I, over the course of that experience, the picture I got was like, there’s not a fixed amount of water here. Yeah. Like, God is expanding in both depth, breadth, height, width. Like that’s all that’s happening. Because my understanding of love is really growing. And, I don’t think I even had those words for it at the time. That’s kind of now how I look back on it. But the being bearing witness, like being present to these, at that time, adults, I mean, I was 24 or something and you know, these are all people in their fifties who just showed up and loved someone really well day in and day out. And did not do that in the Christian ways with the Christian theology I thought they were supposed to have.
Amy Julia (30m 38s):
It really did just expand my understanding of who God was, of both the mystery and to your point, the kind of depths of grief and sorrow that are coming with life in this world and yeah. The possibilities for joy and celebration and wonder alongside those things. So yeah, just for me, that was one of those early experiences that I think would be now, I would say a part of a very much an evolving faith, And, I like that idea, as you said, of like adapting, surviving, but also of, of just growing and changing, as you said, not in a way that’s superior to somebody else.
Amy Julia (31m 18s):
Right. But just it’s a way of like continuing to live life and to live life with a God who continues to be alive and not stagnant or stuck in a box somewhere.
Sarah (31m 28s):
I think you’re exactly right. I think that maybe that’s part of why I had a draw towards it is because even deconstruction isn’t, to me, is an aspect of evolving faith. Yeah. Because there will be some tearing down, there will be some removal, there will be this need to say, oh yeah, you know what, this was super toxic. You know what this was, this was, this was something that damaged and hurt me. Or this is something that damaged and hurt people I love, or people who are in my community or whatever. And there are things worth, you know, pulling up by the roots and getting rid of. Absolutely. But that’s not the total experience of, you know, if I can use really churchy language, which I still love, like spiritual formation. Yeah. Right. And this idea of like, that then would include beautiful experiences and would include the things that add to us.
Sarah (32m 12s):
Right. That would include the things like having these encounters with people who were so different than you in your fifties and really being able to understand Romans eight Right. Of like, this is the, the depth and the height, the breadth of the love of God. Yeah. Right. And so I think maybe that’s part of why I’m drawn to it a little bit, because there was this part of me that wanted room for those experiences Yeah. That wanted room for the ones that didn’t steal from me or or need to be removed. Those things were all still there and that’s part of it. But I also wanted the things that expanded me and that opened up my heart, that helped me love people more, see God differently.
Sarah (32m 57s):
I think some of the best ways that I’ve been able to hold on to loving God has been hearing from people in, from a completely different social location than me and why they love God and how they experience God. You know, those are, are things that have just enriched and brought so much goodness and, and a different view of how I view the spirit. A different view of how I view the love of God, how I view acceptance and welcome and inclusion. I mean, all those things.
Amy Julia (33m 24s):
I’m curious just from hearing you talk, thinking, what it makes me think about is you write a little bit about how we can move from being kind of simplistic and fundamentalist in one side of the religious spectrum and just move to the same thing. But in kind of different version of Right And I feel like, especially right now in American Christianity, it’s really easy for people in kind of my space, which is, you know, kind of on the moderate or progressive Christianity side of things to be pretty condemning and certainly critical of evangelicalism. And I certainly came out of evangelicalism that I did not have most of the toxic experiences just because I was at a mainline church with an evangelical experience.
Amy Julia (34m 9s):
And so there was actually this wonderful blend of like best of both worlds type of thing happening. And I learned and grew a lot and felt really grateful. At the same time. I would no longer call myself an evangelical for various reasons, largely to do with American politics. But I wanna be really careful not to come into a posture of condemnation of evangelicals in some broad sense while also being able to name the things that are, yeah. Whether the word is toxic or just hurtful or I don’t know, even just like theologically distorted or incorrect. And I. Wonder how you hold that space.
Amy Julia (34m 50s):
’cause I, one of the things, one of the things I think that attracts me to your writing is a tone of gentleness and grace, but at the same time a willingness to name things that are not okay. And, and so I’m just curious if you have any thoughts on how we, what the posture of our heart or how we use language that is going to be in that space of kind of grace and truth or Yeah. Not pulling back or shrinking back from saying that’s not okay. And yet also having that expansive welcome that doesn’t only include the people who are kind of on the margins, but also the people who maybe are in the center or something.
Amy Julia (35m 31s):
I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that?
Sarah (35m 33s):
No, I think that that’s a, I think that’s a thing that a lot of folks are kind of of grappling with right now and try to take a run at. I think one of the, one of the harder things I think about growth and change is, is not only the discomfort that it brings to yourself, but the discomfort it can bring to you, like your community and your, your primary place of belonging. And oftentimes being in total agreement is like the currency of belonging, right? Yes. Yes. And. so it doesn’t take a whole lot to find yourself on the other side of the fence. And so I think that some of the things that have been helpful for me in, in walking, and let me be very clear, I have done this wrong so many times, And, I have, I ha there, there’s a long list of all the ways where I could have done this better over the years.
Sarah (36m 28s):
But some of the things that I have found really helpful for me, I remember Jeff Chu, who ran Evolving faith with me for a number of years and is a dear friend Jeff once really, really challenged our Evolving faith community by saying, you’re like, your deconstruction can’t just be for you. Hmm. And that I think was a hard message for some folks to hear and receive, but at the same time, it has been really clarifying, I think for a lot of us that it has to be connected to more than just our own spirituality, our own faith, our own understanding of how we move through the world. And so that to me is like, what’s the Invitation then to not become, not give up being a very conservative fundamentalist to swap it out for being a now a very progressive fundamentalist Yes.
Sarah (37m 15s):
Yes. Because that’s, that’s not actually the Invitation, right. The Invitation is that here trade, this set of opinions and certainties for a nice new set of opinions and certainties. You may change your opinions and minds about all sorts of theological and political things and, and you probably should, but the, the larger Invitation that I think that we’re being invited to is that one of not feeling like somehow, because you’re right, you get an exemption from the fruits of the spirit Hmm. That somehow, because I’m so right in what I think or believe here I am somehow absolved from needing to follow Jesus or needing to be someone who is, has love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and even despite the internet self-control.
Sarah (38m 2s):
And so, you know, so that Invitation for me has always been a bit of a, a snag Yeah. In a, in the best way, you know, to kind of slow down a little bit on some of those things. The other thing that I found a lot of helpfulness around, it does feel to me, and this is where you’ll see my Pentecostal adjacent charismatic self still coming through Yeah. Is, is around this notion of like powers and principalities. Hmm. Which is like big King James language that I still really like. Yeah. And so Paul talks about like there being powers and principalities and that this is what we are warring against, that this is the actual struggle that we’re engaged in. It’s not against people, it is against these powers and principalities that at work.
Sarah (38m 45s):
Yeah. And, I like big language like that. I think because these are big things that deserve big language, whether you’re talking about racism, homophobia, transphobia, ca you know, the, the capitalism and the, the, the, you know, churn of war that we are in the midst of, like these are powers and principalities. These, these deserve big words. And so that’s where things like maybe even in particular the past 10 years that we’ve seen in the West, like I even feel really comfortable using the phrase apocalypse for it in like the truest sense of the word. Meaning that it’s an unveiling. Yeah. It’s a revelation. Yeah. And in a lot of ways all the things that we kind of quietly agreed to, not entirely sure who all I mean by using the word we, because it doesn’t mean everybody.
Sarah (39m 31s):
Yeah. It usually means a particular kind of white evangelicalism. Yeah. But there is this sense of like, oh, now it’s all out here. All the things that we thought we had hidden all the things that were in the lurking in the corners that were always part of the story that maybe we just never really acknowledged whether it was even the, you know, rampant churn of abuse that is, that happens within churches, whether it’s the political, you know, aspects that have just, you know, driven the church into such a, a, a broken, you know, place right now. Yeah. And so you can look at all of those things and say, yeah, okay, you know what, this is, this is language that’s helpful for me to say that these are powers and principalities that work.
Sarah (40m 13s):
This is the thing that we are engaged with. And what is the Invitation then from the spirit in this place that would actually look not like naivete, but like an actual strong muscular kind of love and peacemaking and goodness and mercy. What does it look like to continue to build on ramps for transformation? What does it look like to make room for people to change their minds and grow and evolve? You know, that those are, those are questions I’m interested in right now, I guess.
Amy Julia (40m 45s):
Yeah. Thank you for that. That’s really helpful. And, I think the both of those, that it’s a little kind of like the little picture in the sense of like individual looking at our own life. And you write in the book just about like, the fruit of the spirit is a good guidepost. Like we’ve got that and rightness is not one of them. Right. Like, that’s not a fruit of the spirit. So I think that’s really important. But then also that more big picture. I’m aware right now, just as you may know, our oldest daughter, penny has a, has down syndrome and she’s about to turn 18. So we’re kind of coming up against the bureaucratic system of disability in America. What’s amazing to me is every single individual I talk to within that bureaucracy could not be more kind and generous and want to be helpful.
Amy Julia (41m 33s):
And yet the laws are written in such a way that that makes it almost impossible for any of us to do what we think is right. Like, and, and so, right. Anyway, it’s just been this new moment of like understanding the difference between an individual and a system. And yet I love asking that question of like, what does strong, like a robust love look like in the midst of this And? I’m not sure I have the answer to that, but that’s helpful for me even in just thinking about it. And then I wonder also, there’s a whole chapter in the book about not only being against things, but for things, so you give the example of like, I’m not just against the prosperity gospel, I’m for generosity. I’m not just against racism, I’m for human flourishing. So I wanted to ask you just to talk a little bit about the danger that comes if we only know what we’re against, but then also like what opportunities are there for us to turn in the direction of what we are for and not only, you know, turning away from what we’re against.
Sarah (42m 27s):
Right. I think I, I think that’s something that is almost one of the things that has made me angriest at God in the last number of years. Because I think a lot of us start with what we’re against and that’s a good starting point. Hmm. There are things that are worth being against. And so you, you’re not gonna find me being someone who’s like, well that’s, that’s, you know, whatever, not, you know, or being hard on it. I think a lot of times that’s where you start, right? You start with knowing that, that this isn’t right. Yeah. But there is something here that is, is fundamentally dehumanizing or there’s something here that is, that doesn’t feel right or look right or, or is right in the midst of all of it.
Sarah (43m 15s):
But I think the thing that we often miss then is the Invitation to, to be able to name what we’re for. And so that to me is the thing that I’ve become a little bit more interested in maybe, you know, through a lot of this work and a lot of these conversations, is that to me, oftentimes that’s where the, our calling maybe is hiding, is kind of at that intersection of anger and joy, right? Where it’s like, here’s the thing that makes me angry. Here’s the thing that, that that makes that, that hackles rise on the back of my head off back of my neck. Like these, this is the thing that just like, this is not right and this has gotta stop And, I’m willing to protest and I’m willing to march and I’m gonna write the letters and I’m going to lobby politicians, And, I’m going to go show up at the elder board with a stack of footnoted, you know, points I wanna make.
Sarah (44m 1s):
Like Yeah. Whatever it is that, that is driving you. And that is a, that can be a holy, holy thing, right? That the spirit can be involved in that. Like, there’s no, no part of me that thinks that somehow that’s, you know, divorced from that. But this other aspect that I think is the part maybe we’ve missed is that the anger might start us there, but it won’t sustain us in the work. And I think that, especially in terms of just, I mean, even to your point about how it, you know, a lot of aspects of mothering have opened us up, you know, to a lot of this. Like there’s gotta be something that looks a lot more like love and joy and what you are hoping for Yeah.
Sarah (44m 43s):
To help sustain that over the long haul for all of these these years and the, the tedious and the, the bureaucracy and the, the millions and millions of forms in order to get, in order to access support and services like these, these are the Right, right. These are, this is our life. And so there’s this aspect to me about the Invitation of learning and leaning into what we are for. Yeah. And even this, the, the discipline, if I can use that word Sure. Around having some openness to that, you know, and, and then moving in that direction. To me that looks a lot more like resistance. It looks a lot more like healing work.
Sarah (45m 24s):
It looks a lot more like a lot of the fruit of the spirit. And then it even gives you something to hope for. Right. And so I think that that’s one of the things that maybe I have grappled with over these last number of years is when I say things like hope and love and peace and joy and like those that has to, is that enough for the powers and principalities for the, the questions of our time, for the, the challenges that we kind of are facing right now? And, and my hope is, is that yes, yes they are, but, but only if we can lean into and keep pushing through what we’re against or what’s causing rage or causing anger or that we’re identifying as injustice or that we’re identifying as something that’s sinful or wrong or broken or, or that’s causing damage.
Sarah (46m 8s):
What is the Invitation to name what I’m hoping for then whether it’s for my kids, whether it’s for my neighborhood, whether it’s for my neighbors, whether it’s for people halfway around the world, I’m, I’m hoping for peace. But that means then that that place is a demand for engagement as opposed to just optimism and wishing.
Amy Julia (46m 28s):
Yeah. And I think, I mean, I’m just, as you’re speaking, thinking to the ways in which like the Bible and various places, whether it’s the Old Testament or the new speaks Yes. To what God is against, but very much in the context of what God is for. Right. And the sense of like, why is God against injustice and oppression and all of these things because God is just
Sarah (46m 54s):
Following it all the way.
Amy Julia (46m 55s):
Yeah. Love and for humans, you know, and for flourishing. But flourishing is not just about, you know, individual success or whatever, but actually communal. So that’s, yeah. Just helpful. And as you said, I think that righteous anger can only sustain us for so long before it becomes cynicism or despair. Honestly.
Sarah (47m 20s):
I think it even gives you a path to follow. Like, I, I mean in the book, I even talk about my friends over at Heartline. Oh
Amy Julia (47m 25s):
Yes. We tell
Sarah (47m 26s):
The story. Yeah. That really, it’s
Amy Julia (47m 28s):
Sarah (47m 28s):
Oh, I dunno if we have time for it all, but, we’ll, that’s never stop making a little bit of it. There’s a reason why I usually have an editor is because I’m an oversharer
Amy Julia (47m 37s):
Sarah (47m 38s):
But one of the things that ended up happening was, you know, Heartline operated in Haiti as a, an adoption agency essentially. Yeah. And there were a lot of other aspects of what they, they did as well, but in a large, large part of their work for a lot of those years was placing Haitian babies into usually American homes. And the realization that it never ended, that there were always, always more traumatized mothers, always too much maternal death, always too much poverty, and the amount of children who came through their doors who actually had families. Right. You know, it just, there there were so many different aspects that are connected to deep justice issues and development work and NGOs and colonization.
Sarah (48m 20s):
I mean, there’s this a million different, you know, tentacles at work here, but what it came down to was their decision to say, okay, if we’re against, you know, lonely kids not being raised by their families Yeah. Then what is the Invitation to be for something? And so there were a lot of factors at play, and it’s a really long story, but ultimately they ended up transitioning to being a maternal care center. And so they they deliver babies. Yeah. And, and, and help raise up women to be strong mothers, and they connect them with one another. And it’s become this incredibly beautiful, like Haitian led, you know, initiative towards economic development and family connection and keeping women with their babies.
Sarah (49m 1s):
And it, it just, it, I think in a thousand births, only one woman felt the need to relinquish her child. Yeah. All those babies are being raised in their culture and in their homes and in their communities and in their families and women were not dying in childbirth and like mid wi midwives were being trained and nurses and like care practitioners. And so it’s like it has morphed into this really beautiful thing of like, we, if we’re for this, then what would that look like? Yeah. And. so it seems like a small example in one particular corner, in one particular community in the world. But to me it became almost emblematic of saying, okay, well we can be a gates things literally all day long and that that can be helpful, but now what?
Sarah (49m 44s):
Yeah. And what does it look like for women to be able to, to raise their babies, to, to be able to move through childbirth and safety and security to feel supported in those early weeks and months and years of motherhood to find connection and community to have economic opportunities and development for families. I mean, just, you can change whole stories in a generation.
Amy Julia (50m 8s):
Yeah. I thought that was a really profound and beautiful example. Especially because you know, who’s gonna argue with an adoption agency finding homes for kids and then No, no. Then for them to internally be like, Hey, wait a second, we are unwittingly contributing to the problem that we are trying to solve. How can we think about this differently? And then fi figuring that out, like finding a way to do that. But I I loved that. I love that example so much. Well, I know we’re coming to the end of our time and so I wanted to just ask one final question as I look at the subtitle of your book. So the, you know, the title is Field Notes for the Wilderness, but then the subtitle is Practices for an Evolving.
Amy Julia (50m 49s):
Faith. And we’ve talked about some of the practices that, you know, might be a part of an evolving faith, but I just wanted to close by asking if there is any other, you know, practice that you have found helpful along the way of your own faith shift, evolution, movement and growth. Like what, what’s a what, one or two, whatever you wanna share. Practices of evolving faith.
Sarah (51m 14s):
That’s, that’s a good one. I think that that’s part of maybe where even the origin point of the book was, was saying, here are the things that have served me really well in the Wilderness. Here are the things that I have found to be actually practically helpful. Whether that’s practices or postures, ways of approaching the world. One of the ones that I think, I think one of the, the aspects when you’re talking in a lot of deconstruction conversations or evolving faith conversations, it can come with a lot of anger and rage and grief and loss and trauma for a lot of folks.
Sarah (51m 56s):
But one of the things that I have found that is very consistent in experience, and yet not a lot of people talk about is the, the gifts of it. Hmm. And the goodness of it. And this thing of saying, yes, maybe you lost belonging here, but then what does it look like to have belonging in the full totality of who you are? One of the things that really, really mattered to me and has become part of my own, you know, spiritual formation and practice and, and ways of moving through the world, is the one about learning to love the world again. And to learning how to see the wonder and the curiosity and the goodness of, of the world.
Sarah (52m 39s):
Again, learning to let myself love it, not in general like God so loved the world, I’m just gonna love the world. Like no in, in a particularity, right. In a, in, in, in an actual place with an actual people being able to name, these are the things that bring me joy. These are the things that, these are the places where I’ve found belonging and these are the, the, the moments that I’ve grown to love. And even erasing that weird imaginary line we can kind of create between what’s sacred and what’s secular. Like, somehow they’re separate and instead being like, no, like everything is alive with the goodness and love of God and everything can be this. It’s almost this altar right. Where you encounter God. And so being able to almost like re baptize your Ordinary life Yep.
Sarah (53m 25s):
As a place where you meet with God and you minister and you move, I mean, God, it has just given back so much laughter and joy and curiosity and even a sense of wonder when I used to think that I needed to have every single thing answered, there’s something really beautiful about saying like, I don’t know. And, and, and having that level of, I think even delight. Yeah. And, and stubbornness around hope. That to me is something that is one of the Gifts on the other side of deconstruction, one of the Gifts of, of engaging in, in an, an evolving form of faith is saying, yes, all these things are here too.
Sarah (54m 7s):
And also there’s so much to love and there’s so much goodness and so much joy and so much connection and belonging and beauty. Maybe even in the things that I was taught to distrust or the worry of. Those have been good surprises.
Amy Julia (54m 25s):
I should totally just say we’re gonna end it right there. But I have to bring up, because that was beautiful and thank you, but I just have to bring up this one little story that you share of your kids sleeping outside and it’s like two o’clock in the morning and you hear them talking like they’ve woken up and one of them says as they look at the stars, I can’t believe we always sleep through this And. I mean. That to me was such this like perfect and beautiful anecdote for exactly what you just said. That there are these wondrous things happening and we might be asleep and like not even know they’re happening. And I loved that. They woke each other up and were like, wait a second, this has always been happening and we’ve been asleep.
Amy Julia (55m 8s):
Like And I. Just, I don’t know. I feel like what you just said is in keeping with becoming people who notice the wonder, you know, who wake up and who see it, and who say, oh, oh my gosh, And I. Have to tell somebody else because again, that’s what I’m for, is for the beauty and the wonder and sharing that in love with other people. So anyway, I just, I, I loved all these stories, but I also just love getting a chance to talk to you about them and I’m grateful for this book and for the work that you do, you know, in all these other spaces as well. So Thank you for being here with us, and thank you for these words.
Sarah (55m 47s):
Oh, thank you so much, Amy Julia. I’ve enjoyed this so much. Thank you.
Amy Julia (55m 53s):
Thanks as always, for listening to this episode of Love is Stronger Than Fear. I am sure that this conversation convinced you that you want to check out Sarah’s books, including her latest one Field Notes for the Wilderness, which comes out just two weeks from whenever this episode drops. I will also remind you about my own Lenten Devotional on the way. And I should also mention, I do have a small group discussion series for the season of Lent as well, which you can check out in the show notes. Finally, please do stay tuned for an update on what’s happening with this podcast and the other spaces where I show up. Feel free to email me. My email is Amy Julia Becker [email protected].
Amy Julia (56m 34s):
And thank you. Thank you to Jake Hanson for editing the Podcast to Amber Beery, my social media coordinator for doing everything else to make sure that this happens and Thank you for being here. Finally, as you go into your day, Today I hope you’ll carry with you the peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.
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