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Faithful Rebel: Author Kelly Bean on How to be a Christian Without Going to Church

Book2I’ll admit it. When earnest, thoughtful, Christ-seeking people tell me they no longer go to church, I have two reactions in the following order: a quick spat of envy, then a chest full of heartsick. How will we find one another in a world of one-size-fits-none religion?

The answer, says community cultivator Kelly Bean, is as much a mental shift as it is a linguistic one. The author of the new book How to be a Christian Without Going to Church (July 2014, Baker Books) doesn’t advocate leaving Christian community altogether. Instead, she encourages believers to make the switch from conceiving church as something we go to – a building, a sermon, a worship service – to something we practice being by modelling Jesus who spoke of the ekklesia as a people set apart (literally “the called out ones”) to gather, heal, and create.

Still, do we have to choose between going and being? I asked her when we chatted over Skype. What if my idea of “being the church” is really just code for being more intentional with friends? What is the role of the stranger in communities not visible on the streets (or searchable on the internet)? And am I the only one that finds the idea of DIY church a little overwhelming?

Despite its provocative title, her book is not a how-to at all but a resource-rich guide to alternative faith communities meant to spark the imagination. For those who do feel the call to become “non-goers,” Bean counsels, “Go gently; go towards something and not away from something.”


To read more about Bean and the community in which she moves, click here to find bonus chapters to the book.

Be Sweet to Me

“Be sweet to me,” you said.
What did you mean?
Had it been so long since I made you feel seen?

But your plea was so real,
eyes lowered and coy,
that I couldn’t but meet your gaze unannoyed.

I let down my face
jaw slackened, lips loose
Releasing the furrow for attention to you

“What shall we do?” I said.
You just waited and preened.
So I took you along wherever I planned to be.

First, to the office.
I typed while you read.
“Am I boring?” I asked, but you shook your head.

To the pool, we went next
Shot full of sunscreen
I flapped on with Katie, while you bathed like a queen.

When the weekend was through
And I was near spent
You said, “One more thing?” and I knew what you meant.

We got in the car
Dials glowing and mute
And drove to your house, in stillness to suit.

Shoulders touching we sat
Mouthed words and a meal
I would not have gone if this weren’t the deal.

“Be sweet to me,” God said.
So I wrote this poor poem.
So even our God sees s/he’s not alone.

photo (45)

But why should I not let my face become
lit before this
earth
when someone I cherish
is near?

- St. Catherine of Siena

For If You Love

1013876_10200895118820105_749938453_nNeed a good reason to hope in the local church – “that human solid place to be active in love”? The following is a guest post from an ardent young woman named Lizzie Apple. (Yes, I think she has the best name in the world, too.) Lizzie is an eighteen-year-old southerner headed off to college who loves reading, writing, playing tennis, and watching British period dramas. She works part-time in a fly fishing store. 

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Matthew 5:46

We have heard it said that active love is a harsh and fearful thing, compared with the love in dreams. Love in dreams wants easy things, wants a soft reaching eagerness, and, above all, wants to be watched. This kind of love we all carry.

But there is different love, and love to labor for. Uncomfortable love, love to be borrowed from. Love for the people in each of our corners of the universe not transcended by idea or by the dream to be kind. Love for the human places raking broken past us. Conscious, opened love. Broad, endless person stuffed of all pain and all good. Compassion for the crooked suffering broken things. Compassion in the ragged relationship between unlocked souls, compassion after the misdeeds, and compassion keeping with even our closest guilt.

I want this love, want it not for my good, but despite all fault. I want to be known from that secret, fragile core of me. And with it then, I want to know the world strung out around. I want questions, I want reality, I want God – and I do not want comfort. I want the voice of my own soul, its ghosts and blushes, all the fumbling spirit and kneeled down prayers. I want to cross that threshold like salt: weary, wind-roasted, whole to taste. I want to labor into loving the hard things and people around.

Carried through these lives we are a thousand faces in transit. And each one comes to us offering a chance at the vast consciousness of understanding. My hope for this day is to find good love.

To be vigilant with it.

To see the present beauty and to hold what has been given.

To love in action and to turn from spite.

Especially when that anger wants us.

Especially when we are tired and the roots are dry.

Especially when God feels far and the soul grows deep and crooked.

The word is if, the word is “For if you love…” This is the choice, the going onward and outward in conscious love not only for humanity but for the humans in each of our corners. For the tiresome friends and those begging time from us. For the ones who are hard to love. Slow-speaking, gum-smacking, pen-clicking, human, real, surrounding instruments of holy inherent good.

And so God offers a new world, saying FOR IF YOU LOVE! For if you love, such self-altering things will come.

And this is a promise.

We are here, here a human solid place to be active in love. A place I have been actively loved. And for that I am thankful. And from that we are grown of an early consciousness – steady, muddy, endless wading in our knowledge, wrestling all the night with God.

And from that we are alive to love.

This post was first preached as a sermon on Youth Sunday at Idlewild Presbyterian Church in Memphis, TN. 

Why I Missed #FaithFeminisms Week

photo (44)When I was four-years old, I wanted to be a ballerina. I liked the leotard and the tutu and the dancing in a circle with hands-held-loose. I wanted to be a ballerina until Shannon told me she wanted to be a ballerina too. Surely, the world wasn’t big enough for two ballerinas to make it big from the Chicago suburbs, and so I decided I’d find something else to like that was, well, less likable.

I tell you this because I think it has something to do with why I missed #faithfeminisms week.

Last week, the internet was ablaze with a series of blog posts and twitter updates from folks reflecting on “the interplay between feminist praxis and religious faith.” The usual suspects of popular Christian feminism delivered with force. Rachel Held Evans shared a slew of statistics about why we need feminism, punctuated with the conviction that “patriarchy is not God’s dream for the world.” Sarah Bessey was featured in a brief video about how she coined the phrase “Jesus Feminist” to convey that the very reason she’s a feminist is because she loves and follows Jesus. Posts from new friends popped up throughout the week too, from lizzie mcmanus (“No More Equality for Me“) and Jes Kast-Keat (“The Spirit on All Flesh“). All the while I sat in my bouncy chair feeling very proud and a bit surprised that Christian feminism has become more visible than it’s ever been in my lifetime. Surely, the blogosphere didn’t need one more young, white woman adding fuel to the Holy Spirit fire. 

If I had blogged, though, I might have told you about deciding that the first ‘adam (or earthling) was a hermaphrodite after reading Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Readings on Genesis and Gender in college. In one rabbinical tradition, it’s argued that the split in gender didn’t come until Genesis 2:23 when Adam’s rib was fashioned to make a companion, a split analogous to the simultaneous creation story of male and female in Genesis 1:27. How might this interpretation affirm the inherent worth of women in their own right? What then of Scripture’s authority in verses that proclaimed man was the glory of God and woman the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7)?

If I had blogged, I might have told you about how I didn’t think I had a stake in GLBTQ concerns until graduate school when I could no longer stomach arguing for the original intent of verses that appeared to condemn women’s worth without also wrestling with those that condemned same-sex acts (and, notably, said acts in Scripture are never within the context of what we today would consider a committed, healthy relationship.) I devoured Dale Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior, becoming fascinated by the idea that we might even call Jesus a queer in as much as he fit few of the Jewish expectations for masculinity (or the messiah) prevalent during his life. Queering in this context does not signify Jesus’s sexual identity but rather his strategy of being purposefully ambiguous in order to open new pathways of connection and crossing. If Jesus wasn’t all that concerned with playing it “straight,” then why should it be my concern that others fall neatly into a two-sex model of gender? 

If I had blogged, I might have told you that I don’t like praying to God the Father without also mentioning the Son and Spirit (see Janet Soskice’s The Kindness of God). I don’t like feminizing the Holy Spirit because I think it implies the other two members of the Trinity are obviously male (see Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self). And I don’t believe that Christ and his bride can only be faithfully represented by a man and his wife (see Eugene Rogers’s article on Same-Sex Complementarity.)

I might have also told you that I lost the battle to refer to God as both “he” and “she” in my new book. 

Maybe I didn’t tell you all of this because I thought I didn’t need to. There were others stepping up to the #faithfeminisms plate and hitting it out of the park. Or maybe I didn’t tell you because sometimes I need to practice my beliefs more than I need to defend them. I suspect I also thought I might alienate some of you by coming out so clearly with my wild ideas about a gender-full God. After all, I still consider myself a tradition-loving Catholic – and an evangelical too.

I wouldn’t have made a good ballerina. I never turned out that tall or disciplined and, if you haven’t noticed, I have a tab on this blog called Yes, Cupcakes. But I know now that letting the popularity of a thing stop it from becoming “my thing” is a mentality sized for a four-year old.

It doesn’t matter that your ideas are original,” writing coach once told me,“only that you believe them.” With a Holy Spirit fire afoot, you may even have the stomach to share them.

When Writing Stops Being Fun

photo (43)“Where in your life are you experiencing the easy yoke of Jesus?” I paused for a beat or two as my eyes scanned our living room, looking for signs the question had stirred them. Soon, one friend, then another, spoke about where he or she was finding divine flow these days, from mission trips to motherhood. They knew it was flow because it didn’t require an instruction manual and it didn’t require much effort. When it was my turn to speak, I answered confidently that I was finding it “in my writing.” That was Thursday. By Friday, I was groaning to Rush – a jumbo-sized Blow Pop in my mouth – that “I shuddnt hap jinx it.”

Since turning in my manuscript revision for my first full-length book last month, I’ve been resting. I sleep in until the alarm clock goes off. I don’t check e-mail on weekends. I take naps during episodes of the West Wing and don’t bother to rewatch them before moving on to the next one. I even managed to take my publisher’s advice to “consider the electronic copy of your manuscript dead to you.” Until now, when people asked about my book – off in some faraway copy editor’s hands – I replied, almost zen-like, “I feel a certain peace about it.” Writing for fun seemed possible again.

Then, not six weeks after I’d gone on my vacation from toil, I got the copy edits in the mail. The package was resting up against our door when I went outside to sniff the air last Monday. I held it my hands. Nervous. Excited. Reverent. Closing the door behind me, I came back inside and put it on the coffee table where it stayed all week. “I’m not ready for you, yet,” I told it on Wednesday. “I’m having so much fun. Can you wait until Friday?” A worm’s-length worth of dread was beginning to twist knots in my stomach.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield personifies this kind of creative attack as Resistance. It shouldn’t surprise us that it often comes directly after bold statements of purpose, passion, or joy. In fact, it shouldn’t surprise us that upon meeting Resistance the task we once named an “easy yoke” becomes anything but fun. Fun, after all, is why the amateur creates, Pressfield writes. Resistance sees no threat from the amateur. The pro, however, writes because she can’t not. Words are as elemental to her as water. It is how she keeps herself alive and how she has any strength left to help others do the same. Her’s is a life and death calling.

When writing stops being fun, we have the chance to go pro.
Pros write to understand before ever writing to be understood 
Pros hunt down their fear until it no longer hunts them
Pros create space to create and protect it from attack
Pros endure a bad day because they know they have a lifetime
Pros know their worth, and know it’s not tied to their work

Most days I pinch myself that I get paid to do what I love – and with so talented a team. But I’ve also been tempted to believe that this would all be more fun if it were just me in my pajamas with no one’s edits, no one’s deadlines, no one’s tracked changes. There are parts of the publishing process that have brought sheer delight – like getting to choose from three, slick cover options or getting to fill out an author Q&A  like I was some guest on a talk show. There are also parts that require a jumbo-sized Blow Pop.

When Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” he gave us some clues as to what that might look like, namely, to do our work with gratitude and humility and in partnership. To be yoked with Jesus, as a novice ox would be yoked with a more experienced one, doesn’t mean we are excused from all work. Our bodies keep moving forward in faith by showing up, opening packages, and sitting down again to do the work that we can’t not do. But by taking the “easy part” of action not outcome, Jesus promises rest for our stressed-out souls.

Even when the work stops being fun, we have the chance of going yoked with a pro.

Faithful Rebel: Perky Patty on How God Talks to Everyone (Even You)

5674274591_c031de13c8_m“Do you remember Phil Coutler?” my mom asks me from the passenger seat. She’s visiting. We’re driving.

“Phil Coulter? I haven’t thought about that name in years. I used to love waking up to his cheesy, elevator music on long car rides. It meant Charlie and I had fallen asleep, and you were alone at the wheel.”

“But do you remember how I asked you to imagine God in those songs?” She was always asking us to imagine God, to talk to God, to listen for God. One time we drove around town looking for my brother’s stolen bike, stopping at every intersection to ask God, “Straight, Right, or Left?” No moment was too small to beg God’s voice.

She goes on, “It was amazing what you and Charlie saw. You were, like, elementary school age, and here you’d be listening to Phil’s music and say, ‘Oh, I see God in a boat’ or ‘Now God’s pushing me in a swing.'” Now her hands are in front of her chest, palms facing outward like she’s pushing holy air, “It was so totally awesome.”

God’s so totally awesome, according to my mom – better known to me and all who meet her as Perky Patty. Here is a woman God has been wooing her whole life. She began shopping for churches on her own in the sixth grade. She heard God’s command to find her drowning son while an unbeliever in her thirties. She converted to Catholicism, home schooled us in catechism classes, and later became a charismatic. Now that she’s retiring age, she thinks God might want her to be an overseas missionary, but she has a vision of a house with a wrap-around porch in small town America that she just can’t shake. While she was visiting, I sat down (side by side – apologies for the echo) with my original model of a faithful rebel to talk “God stories,” gut feelings, and how perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that God wants to communicate with each and every one of us.

Take twenty minutes to listen to Perky Patty and consider the ways God is speaking to you, Whitney Houston songs included.


Oh, and in case you were wondering? We found my brother’s bike. Fifteen minutes from home. Spray-painted black. Sitting outside a store front.

God’s voice falls clear on expectant ears.

Do you want to hold my baby?

photoIt’s happening. In the last year, what were once just thoughts and talk and made-up timelines have now become real: Five friends. Five newborns. One unavoidable question, “Do you want to hold my baby?” and one awkward answer, “I will if you want me to.”

I’ve written plenty about Rush’s and my decision to not try for biological children. It’s a choice that most people in our circle have come to accept, even if it seemed a hypothetical one when we were in our twenties and surrounded by friends who had similar ideas about how they’d never sell-out to the suburbs or never eat bargain chicken. Never is a precarious promise. But now that our ideas about where we’d live and who we’d love and how we’d make a life were beginning to shake out, there was a new choice I hadn’t anticipated. How did I want to relate to other people’s children?

It’s a shame other people’s children have to start out as babies and not something more furry and sure-footed. Even my mother who makes a living as a baby nurse once said that tiny humans didn’t do much for her. They seemed to do a whole lot for my friends who were birthing them. “It’s like no love I’ve ever known,” one cooed. Another, “I just can’t stop staring.” Even though I didn’t really want to hold anyone’s baby, preferring instead to hear about the high-drama details of her labor or the mid-level hum of their marriage, I typically agreed when asked if only because everyone else was doing it.

“What am I supposed to say?” I asked one of my favorite pair of new parents. “Is it rude to say no? I mean, I’ll do it if someone needs to run to the bathroom or something but I don’t have to do it. I don’t really care one way or the other.”

Juli sat across from me on her teal vinyl couch, the baby monitor in her sight line,  a margarita in her hand.  “Erin, I think you can be honest. I only ask people because I assume they want to. You should see some of them when I offer. They lean right into it.”

Corey put his hand on her thigh and squeezed. “Juli has a knack for reading people. But she’d never be offended if someone said no. Your friends should understand.”

I thought about their comments driving home that night, the taste of lime and salt still lingering on my tongue. My friends should understand that babies aren’t my thing. My friends should understand me. But perhaps I should understand them, too. If I wanted to love my friends well, perhaps I should learn to love what they loved.

I considered for a moment my dog, Amelia. And how I loved people who loved Amelia. A friend who came to stay for a night and admitted, “I’m just not a dog person,” became, all of a sudden, a friend who I worried wasn’t “my kind of person.” A friend who slept over and requested that Amelia share her bed? Now that was a friend who had my heart.

After all, isn’t this how we learn to love God, too, by loving the things God loves? And Scripture is uneiquivocal about God’s love for the innocent, the newborns, the children among us.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:2)

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. (Luke 18:17)

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

The greater risk then is not doing something that doesn’t move me. The greater risk is living underwhelmed by that which moves God.

In the last year, as five friends have given birth to five newborns, I have held five babies, and not just hypothetical “babies”once dreamed of but babies named Arden, Novella, Hank, Hazel, and Grady. I suppose I could say no the next time one of their parents asks, “Do you want to hold my baby?” I could say no because I might get drool on my shoulder or nails across my chest. But I could also say yes. Instead of mumbling, “I will if you want me to,” I could say, “I would love to hold your baby.”

I could even mean it.