For Eston…

This weekend has been a sad one indeed; the cold, consistent rain appropriates the spirit with which I write this post. Saturday morning a dear family friend left us. Eston Adcock was an exceptional man…a man who quietly worked to show his neighbors that he loved them; I owe him a great deal for all that he did to assist my grandmother after my grandfather left us in 2012. After knowing him for decades, my grandmother commented that she didn’t believe that she’d ever heard a remark of ill will from him. I’m writing this post because I believe that we should honor folks who show unwavering, unsolicited, sustained compassion over a lifetime.

For the suddenness of his passing and for the gaping hole that he left, I offer the Adcock family, this prayer:

For the compassionate spirit of Eston Adcock, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the love that he had for his Maker, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the way in which he cared for the earth through gardening and farming, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the generosity with which he extended his time, talents, and treasures, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the work he did which blistered his hands and tired his back, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the manner in which he loved Ann, his children, and his many grandchildren, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For the friendship he extended to my grandparents, Lord we give you thanks and praise.

For his family who grieves tonight the loss of a cornerstone, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the hard work of planning a funeral and burial, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For peace to flow down as plentifully as tears, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For recalling the years of memories which bring smiles and pain alike, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the forthcoming difficult weeks and holiday season, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the beautiful Adcock, Brooks, and Hager families, Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

GE DIGITAL CAMERA Eston, Ann, Kathy Fields, Ann Davis, and Kate Fields 
GE DIGITAL CAMERA Eston and Ann Adcock

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To know Eston was to love Eston. If you have memories of him, leave a comment here. Let’s honor Eston’s legacy of service for God and for humanity.

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Something Unpredictable

Inevitably life comes in seasons. Much like the four seasons that greet us at the door each year, we journey through a sectioned life. Seasons in our lives change. Change perpetuates more change. It’s not all bad… because we need that change to grow. People enter and leave our lives for seasons. And sometimes that’s ok… and sometimes it hurts terribly.

So how do you endure… how do you persist?

First, knowing who you are is key. You have to understand your passions, your personality, your body and then sanction all of the above. Learning to be kind to yourself is a necessity. You have to know that when you are on your knees praying, your voice matters. You matter.

Next, it helps to understand the following helpful (rather painful) lesson. Some people who you have given your heart to and love deeply just can’t give that back to you. Maybe it’s because they don’t have it to give. Maybe they still don’t know who they are. Maybe they are just stretched too thin. Maybe they are fighting a bigger battle than you can compete with. Or maybe you just aren’t their person (Grey’s Anatomy reference). Here’s the thing: you can’t force that relationship… as much as you want it to happen, you have to let them go. As painful as it is, you have to release them.

You have to let them go so they can be. Let them be. And be kind to yourself, knowing you’ve just created more room for the right person for you. Or just room for you to breathe again and keep growing.

Often when you let something go, something that matters greatly, you get it back again. Maybe it’s time to let someone go.

And last, you focus on those people in your life who do not change with the seasons. The ones who will hold you in bed when you are exhausted and the ones who will sit down at the kitchen table after their busy day to hear about yours. The ones who let you double dip. The ones who plop down next to you while you cry or confess your deepest insecurities. The ones who you can call 24/7. The ones who look into your eyes, and without speaking, tell you they’ll love you forever.

The ones who would be crushed if you weren’t in their lives tomorrow.

So thank those people in your life today because it takes a lot of bravery to love you like that.

For an INFP like me, this lesson may be one of the hardest I ever have to learn. But the learning of it, is also the path to freedom and hopefully, on the other side of the cloud, the sun’s just waiting to shine.

Have you had to let people go? How do you show those who love you that you appreciate them?

One Last Chance: OEC Millennial Interview #4

I hope you are enjoying this series, Our Emptying Church, as much as I am! On a personal note, I have been completely humbled by the stories I’ve heard in doing OEC interviews. I am indebted to these beautiful and brave men and women for their vulnerability. In the days leading up to the presidential election, I’ll be continuing to post about why Millennials are leaving the church. Stay on this journey with me.

Today I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 27 year old man who has dedicated his life to helping folks. I’m so grateful to be able to see his story unfolding.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

Yes—Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and most Wednesday nights

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

Yes

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

Connection to other people who are searching for the same things that I am—meaning, love, hope, & community.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

I have had good, bad, and neutral, and I might add crazy, too… several times.
I grew up in a very traditional Baptist church where it seemed, as I grew up, that most of the people there were fighting any kind of modernity. Looking back, I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that the church was HUGE from the 1950’s to the early 90’s and then the membership roll dropped off drastically. I think a lot of the generation that saw the “hay-day” and then experienced the drop off blamed it on modern thought—everything from the adoption of Contemporary Christian Music to people not wearing 3 piece suits on Sunday mornings. So, as the side that wanted tradition and the side that wanted church to be relevant got more entrenched, the situation got meaner and meaner and more and more people got hurt. I was 13 when my family left the church, and, while it was a real wake up call for me about the amazing things that the church could be, it was also an immensely hurtful and damaging experience. For quite a while I was turned off completely by anything that had to do with church tradition, history, or doctrine.
I’ve also had several good experiences—life altering experiences—with the church. I’ve also had more let downs and some straight crazy stuff.

–What is the purpose of the church?

The purpose of the church is to carry on the work that Jesus started—to reap what he sowed. Our job is to recklessly love all people and be a safe place where literally everyone is welcome. We are to be Christ’s body on earth—feeding the poor, caring for the widow and the orphan, celebrating with those who celebrate and mourning with those who mourn. The church exists to lead people from being the prodigal son, through being the bitter son who stayed at home, and ultimately on to becoming like the father who puts his own dignity down and runs to embrace those outside its walls.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

I did for a long, long time, but quite frankly I don’t care enough anymore about other people’s opinions on the matter to make me feel guilty about attending or not.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

Many (I hesitate to say most at this point in my life) of the Christians I’ve known know everything and are rarely if ever wrong about anything. I’ve known many Christians who are far too political (and I know that I’ve been guilty of this myself) and judgmental (I put myself in this category as well) and are focused on defending their personal beliefs at the expense of others. I have also known many Christians who would give you the shirt off their back without hesitation. Some Christians that I know are the most loving, the most humble, and the most generous people I’ve ever met.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

Not one bit. I don’t think necessarily has as much to do with people being out-and-out atheists as it does with the fact that a lot of Millennials don’t want to be associated with one organized religion, because often they don’t want to be associated with the people who practice it. In many ways I would put myself in that category as well. I am completely comfortable calling myself a Christ-follower, because I want to be known for what Jesus stood for, but I certainly don’t want to be known as a Baptist, Protestant, Catholic, or whatever, because I don’t want to be immediately branded with the negative connotations that many of those labels carry.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

For much the same reason, I think we’ll see a decline in the number of people who want to identify themselves with a particular religion, but as the church learns to love better I think we’ll see an increase in the actual population of the church (which may not be quantifiable).

-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

The church, like almost every other gift that God gave us, has tremendous potential for either good or bad. I think the reason I haven’t given up on the church altogether is that I still believe in what God promised the church could be if we would just check ourselves at the door. I believe that the church is in many cases, and can continue to be the strongest force for good on planet earth. I can’t completely quit on the church because I believe too strongly in God’s intention to make it a place of healing, deliverance, and true community. Ultimately, I continue to hope in the church because I continue to hope in him.

 

Do you have a similar story about nearly leaving the church?

This post is the sixth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Interview with a Millennial #1, Interview with a Millennial #2, OEC Interview #3: You’re Losing Us

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You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3

Last week, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study which revealed that a third of Millennials (18-29) say they have no religious affiliation. For all ages, the percentage of the religiously unaffiliated grew from 15% to 20% over the last five years. Those hit hardest by this loss were evangelical Protestants. Kevin Ezell, the president of the North American Mission Board, a missional branch of the theologically conservative Southern Baptist Convention, responded to the research saying:

Southern Baptists shouldn’t need any more evidence to convince us that we must increase our efforts to penetrate lostness in North America… I believe that only a church planting movement will reverse this trend.

As I was reading President Ezell’s response, I threw the newspaper across the room. I couldn’t help but think, you are missing it. Don’t you see? Another mega church is not the answer. We do not need yet another building campaign. We do not need to be on the roll of yet another Sunday School class. Don’t you get it?! You’re losing us. Millennials need dialogue. We need help with the messiness of life. We need intentional community. We need Jesus.

Stepping off the soapbox, I’d like continue this post by sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. My prayer is that we will benefit from hearing other stories and that we’ll begin realizing that we really aren’t all that different. This interview comes from a 22 year old student. He is as generous as he is kind, and also incredibly intelligent; I am sure that I am a much better woman for knowing him.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?


Yes. I was a regular attendant of the Methodist Church up until my late teen years.

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

No I’m not. And, as of this time, I’m not looking for one.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

In all honesty, a lot of my motivations for not attending are internally created. I’ve never had a bad experience within my own church that would cause me to leave it. I suppose my biggest reason for leaving is that I began to feel wrong there, like I didn’t truly belong. For the first time I began to realize just how much hatred and cruelty there was in the world, especially from those of the Christian faith. These Christians seemed to take special care to direct their negativity towards the people I identified with: those who don’t see the world in black and white, those whose sexuality doesn’t adhere to what is considered the social norm, those who believe that all faiths should be respected, etc. I suppose I let all that negativity influence me and, while I did not face such hatred directly, I stopped attending church because I felt there was no place for me there anymore.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

As I stated earlier, I truly didn’t experience any problems from my church community when I did attend. Everyone always treated me cordially and I never had an issue. However, I should note that, although I attended church regularly growing up, I never felt I got anything substantial out of it. People around me would discuss how they could feel everyone’s prayers bolstering their strength during times of struggle and how God would fill them with a sense of peace. I had never felt any of that. I had prayed my whole life through good times and bad but had never felt like anyone was listening. For some reason, I had been deemed unworthy of these great transcendental experiences. I figured it was because I didn’t match what God or the church wanted. That hurt for a little while. However, I still pray regularly. Hope is notoriously difficult to kill.


–What is the purpose of the church?

That’s a loaded question. I’m sure each individual church would tell you something different due to their varying values and such. In my opinion, I always thought that the church was meant to be a place of belonging and acceptance, a place where you could go when no one else would have you. I’m sure some are that way, but they seem to be few and far between.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Not at all. I feel absolutely no attraction to church in any way.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

Wow! That’s kind of like asking how do I perceive humanity. There are kind, loving people and there are cruel, hateful people. I think it’s the same with Christianity and every other religion as well. They are as varied as the human race because they are all part of it.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

No, it doesn’t surprise me. The world is changing and I feel like the church doesn’t want or know how to keep up. I’m sure there are many like me who left for reasons similar to mine as well as countless others who left for their own reasons. In addition, I’m sure there are many who never had a religion and feel no reason to acquire one now. Some churches’ attitudes probably don’t help draw in the crowds either.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

You never know. It may continue to decrease or something may change and the church’s growth skyrockets. I guess time will tell.

–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m an atheist, though I see nothing wrong with that. I do have beliefs in place and I do believe in basic and, what I feel to be, Christian concepts such as love, respect, and acceptance. It is my own fault for letting the negativity of a few infiltrate my heart the way it has but I’m trying to let it go. Who knows, maybe someone upstairs is helping me. There will always be those who attempt to break all of us down but hopefully we can overcome it with the strength we draw from those we love. I really want people to know that no matter how alone you feel, and trust me I’ve been there, you’re not. There is always someone somewhere who gets it and who understands you and if you’re lucky you may get to call them a friend one day. Hold on to that. It got me through a lot.


As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this man’s story?

This post is the fifth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Interview with a Millennial #1, Interview with a Millennial #2

Fake Smiles & Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with a Millennial #1

If this is your first time tuning into the series, welcome! You may want to check out Our Emptying Church and When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church.

This week, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study that is eerily similar to David Kinnaman’s research. You can check out the data here. The research showed that a third of Millennials (18-29) say they have no religious affiliation.

The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans – sometimes called the rise of the “nones” – is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones. A third of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation (32%), compared with just one-in-ten who are 65 and older (9%). And young adults today are much more likely to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

A blind eye can no longer be turned to the decline of the American evangelical church. It is a reality. I am interested in finding out the motive(s) behind these statistics and I am not afraid to ask hard questions. Honest dialogue is the critical component here.

Stories are important for Millennials. It is often much more socially acceptable to ask a Millennial about his/her story instead of what job position or highest degree he/she holds. A story encompasses someone’s life in the whole rather than simply focusing on a career, which is one aspect of a story. I am a sucker for a good story. Some of my best friendships began with an invitation to get coffee and to trade life stories. I am most grateful for those friends who keep looking me into the eyes and encouraging me to grow and ask questions.

In the next few days, I’m excited to be posting multiple interviews with Millennials here on the blog. My prayer is that by reading other stories, we’ll gain a better perspective of our own and that we’ll embrace each other as brothers and sisters instead of enemies. Because I asked very personal questions about church experiences, I’ve decided to keep the interviewees fairly anonymous; I hope you’ll be as blessed from these interviews as I have been.

Today I’m happy to start off the interview series with a 23 year old woman and a dear friend of mine.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church? No.
–Are you currently actively attending a church? No.
–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

I do not feel accepted in the church anymore. I feel like as soon as I walk in, there are judging eyes. I worked in the church daycare a long time ago and moved in with my fiancé. The church told me I needed to not live with him anymore and they would let me keep my job. They also said I could not get married there if I was living with him. I understand not getting married in the church, but I do not understand what the purpose of me losing my job was. My personal life had no interference with my job. I felt the church was very hypocritical. Because they said I was not living the life of a Christian? That is circumstantial, every sin is the same. They also fired a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock. The one time they could have shown the love Christ showed, they fired her, but told her she could come back once the baby was born. It disgusted me.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

Most of my experiences are listed above. I started really attending church when I was in middle school. I love the youth trips. But I feel like once highschool is over we are left to fend for ourselves. There really isn’t that much for my age group where I feel they have experienced what I have. And where I could give my testimony without judging eyes.

–What is the purpose of the church?

That’s a great question. I feel like the purpose of the church has gotten lost in money and how big the church can get. I feel like the purpose of the church is to gather with people who believe Christ died on the cross for our sins. A place to worship, learn, and pray together. A place you can find shelter and comfort in.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Yes and No. Because my generation is not the church going generation because there is too much hypocrisy in the church

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (I.e.: loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

All of the above. I feel like Christians are very closed minded and most of them usually are. I feel like Christians are scared of what is different from what they have grown up with. You cannot expect someone who was not raised in church to know Christ the way you do. You have to bring it to their level, and most Christians are not willing to get out of their comfort zones.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

Doesn’t Surprise me at all.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

I feel like there will be a huge decline if churches do not do something that will allow EVERYONE to feel like they are welcome. And no fake smiles… I get that A LOT when I visit places.

-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

Things I would like to see in the church: More diverse cultures in the pews and more woman behind the pulpit

 

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story?

Hurt

So I was listening to one of Johnny Cash’s last songs this week. I have a great amount of respect for Cash though I’m not necessarily a country music connoisseur. The song is entitled “Hurt” and here are the lyrics to the chorus.

“What have I become,
My sweetest friend,
Everyone I know,
Goes away in the end,

And you could have it all,
My empire of dirt,
I will let you down,
I will make you hurt.”

I have never listened to the song before (if you haven’t I’d recommend it with all due haste…listen to it while you are reading this) and naturally, I loved it. It seemed so heartfelt and raw. Raw was something I had been feeling… in the advent of my maternal grandfather’s sudden brain aneurysm and death in January. After the funeral, I had to immediately jump back into the whirlwind of all things graduate school and really didn’t have much time to process the “hurt” I felt… so upon hearing Cash’s song, it sank in. At the same time, I had learned of a friend who was going through a very difficult time and was bearing consequences that were not of her doing. I hurt for her… I hurt for me.

I began reflecting on relationships… people that I know now… that I have known… that I will know. It’s powerful stuff. The fact of the matter is that we will lose each other eventually. Think about people you’ve known and loved… people who are no longer a part of your life for one reason or another. That hurts. Even aches. To have loved and lost that which you loved. For me, it drives home the fact that life comes in seasons… people come into our lives for a season to teach us, to love us, to walk beside us, to change us… but part of living is that we eventually have to give them up… they “go away in the end”… eventually…they’ll make us hurt, like Johnny so eloquently conveys. And then what do you do?

You keep going. You keep loving. You let yourself be changed. They knew you, they loved you and hurt you, they are in your memory, they are in your soul. But you are in a new season now… you can’t become immobilized because of the pain of the past. You can’t shut down. You keep going, keeping your heart open to meet and love new people. This is the blessing of life… a gift of God. So as hard as it can be, you have to be grateful to have known that person and grateful for the memory that you carry.

Then, with all grace and strength… you rise.

Forgiveness

I fear that sometimes I am a slow learner or perhaps a learner that requires the learning of a lesson more than once. A redundancy. Unfortunate, and yet, something that is all too familiar to me.

I have often heard, and even previously learned that when you don’t forgive someone, you really do it to the detriment of yourself. They hurt you… maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe spiritually, maybe all three, but nevertheless, they leave a mark you wish wasn’t there. You are angry, hurt, and resentful. And these emotions become welcome friends to your heart. They are the outlet that you find solace in… but they start wreaking havoc. Before long, they creep deep enough and take hold of the hope, joy, and peace that were in your heart. These were delicate. They were delicate. And you didn’t protect them. You chose not to forgive.

The point is… that not forgiving means that you have given the perpetrators of your hurt more power over you than you could ever realize. You give them the power to control your joy, your peace, your hope. Your hope. They control your hope. That’s a lot of power to give away.

Forgiving them… it seems counter-intuitive. It seems like you are relinquishing your power, your stand, your pride and are becoming weak. But may I assert that perhaps the act of forgiveness is one of the most courageous, strength-requiring acts that a human can endeavor to achieve. It hurts to have been wronged and not be able to be recompensed or have been able to right the injustice that occurred. But as unlikely as it may sound, forgiveness is the route to healing of the hurt. Forgiving is taking that power that they once had over you and stripping it from them. It’s allowing a new day, to be just that. A day that is yours again. A day that you find your hope, joy, and peace. A day that you have courage again. Courage to forgive and to become a better person for having forgiven. A day that you are a forgiver.

This is the lesson that I have been reminded of today. So for all the hurt that you have experienced or will experience: 1) Christ have mercy on us for the evil around this place and 2)Be courageous. Forgive. Choose the road less traveled and it will make all the difference.