where you come from.

“It is very important to go home if you want your work to be whole. You don’t have to move in with your parents again and collect a weekly allowance, but you must claim where you come from and look deep into it. Come to honor and embrace it, or at the least, accept it.” –Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

I love to talk about tomatoes from the garden and Tarheel basketball and red clay. I secretly enjoy the smell of the tobacco plant down the road from my school. I can drawl with the best of them. North Carolina is my home, and I have mostly made peace with the fact that people from other places view us as backwater hicks. I am no longer embarrassed by my accent or the fact that we all buy eggs and milk and bread when there are flurries in the forecast. (What’s better than French toast on a cold morning, I ask you?) I grew up around good people, and from them I learned about Jesus and hard work and loving your neighbor.

There are other parts of my background that I am still processing. I have not found a way to accept or embrace certain parts of growing up evangelical: I wince at the familiar language of blessings and I have panic attacks when someone wants to anoint me with oil. Last week, our pastor mentioned the Toronto Blessing in a sermon as he talked about gifts both spiritual and otherwise. I passed Mike a note that said, “I DO NOT LIKE THIS.”

I get that way, capital letters feeling all the feelings, because I don’t have the words to talk about the elder who prayed for me to receive the Toronto Blessing and then tried to push me over so I could be “slain in the spirit.” Or the youth leader who compared me to a prostitute for helping at a car wash. I still flounder when I try to tell people about failing the spiritual gifts test (it feels like you failed when your highest score is celibacy) or about the period of time when I was the only girl in my youth group who attended public school. Mike and I walked away from that brand of Christianity, the prophecies and speaking in tongues and the proof texting. We have taken another path, one we didn’t know existed at the time, and we are happy with where we have ended up.

(A book I recently found at my favorite used book store.)

But the problem is that when I outright reject my past, I am rejecting part of myself. When I disdain those years of prayer vigils and the time I spent working in a Christian bookstore, I am not allowing for the fact that I lived in those places for many years, that charismatic evangelicalism was my home. I spoke the language and I knew the terrain. The t-shirts and the True Love Waits and the recommitting yourself to God, those are all part of who I am because they are part of who I was.

I recently read a book about a woman’s spiritual journey, and I got frustrated with it because the author was in a good place and then she wasn’t again. I wanted her to have arrived. I wanted things to be okay. I wanted her to tell me that I have arrived and that I am going to be okay, and I had to stop faulting her for telling the truth. We never really arrive when it comes to life or decorating or spirituality, and we will repeat these cycles—these middles—over and over. I imagine that one day I will look back at the relatively good place we are in and I will want to distance myself from parts of it.

I hope so, anyway. I would hate to think that my life stops evolving, that I will speak the same language of faith and have the same beliefs forever, as painful as it sounds to know that I will be forced to change. It is not uncommon for me to find bruises on my legs and have no idea where they came from. I guess I ran into something again. That’s the image that was in my mind on Christmas Eve, when I heard the phrase heart of flesh and realized that it was not going to let me go. Flesh can bruise, but it can also heal. It keeps going.

This is what I was pondering when I declared that this is my year to be soft-hearted. Last year I forced myself to say yes to new experiences, and it was amazing, but it also caused me to bump up against my own hard-heartedness. My unwillingness to forgive and be forgiven. The way I close myself off from painful memories. That desire to craft a simple narrative. But part of being at home in my own life is making peace with the places I used to live, however uneasily I resided there.

I am attempting to check in on my one word – soft-hearted – for 2013 at the end of each month. Here’s January’s offering. I’m not totally sure if I actually said anything, but I have at least been thinking disjointed thoughts about it.

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  1. brandi

    I’ve been thinking about evolving faith lately, too. It’s easy for me to look backwards and see how I’ve evolved, but it’s hard for me to see where to go from here. What do you do if you feel like you’re settled in what you think? Even just for now?

    It’s made me remember that it’s not just orthodoxy but orthopraxy… maybe I’m good with where I’m at theologically for now, but how it is playing out in my life? My actions and attitudes and… -heartedness need to evolve as well. Much harder and more annoying.

    Posted 1/31/2013 at | Permalink
  2. 🙂

    I resonate with much of this. And we came from the same background and place. And I *FULLY* participated in the madness! Fully. ‘Til I started pretended I was fully participating. Then realized I was pretending. Then the cognitive dissonance hit. Then it was time to move on to live an honest life. It is quite freeing to not despise my heritage and yet be able to move beyond and perhaps *gasp* away from it! The hyper-authoritarian-charismania is not something I now espouse. But we survived. Grew. And now I can unashamedly say that I gain more and thrive more when reading and soaking in the missio-ecclesio-spirituality** of egalitarian, anabaptist pacifists who espouse such crazy ideas as mutual submission within the body and say things like “tethered community is more important than membership in a local church” *gasp, gasp, gasp!* I don’t agree (or don’t know if I agree with all they say, but when I smell life and it jives better with the Jesus I read in the Scriptures, I’ll take it …

    For the record, when the “Toronto Blessing” blew through, I prayed for a lot of people who fell over – but I didn’t push them. They allowed their knees to lock all on their own. And for the record, I wanted to fall over when the Toronto Blessing came through. I did go down a couple times, but I was just so darn relaxed. I wasn’t truly “slain” like it says I shoulda been in the book of II Hesitations.

    As an aside, but not a full aside, check out the stuff that Missio Alliance is doing. Their innaugural conference is in April in DC. I’m not going this round, but respect a lot of the people who are there. If you just threw up in your mouth a little from the thought of another Christian conference, go brush your teeth first, then get back online and check it out.

    Also, just saw this on Twitter today: “Spiritual gift test’s are fascinating but often they bolster already exalted self-images w/out motivating selfless service.” *Gasp*

    Keep on keepin’ on. Embrace the Holy Spirit as he point y’all to King Jesus. Don’t read my exhortations as authoritarian commands 🙂 … and whatever you do, don’t visit this “guy” on Twitter: @fakedriscoll. Somebody told me it leads to cynicism. I wouldn’t know from personal experience 😉 …

    **not a word – and I’m not trying to make one up for looking smart – just wanted to include ecclesiology, mission, and spirituality together …

    Posted 1/31/2013 at | Permalink
  3. Susan

    I honestly have no idea what the Toronto Blessing is… I will have to google it.

    I love your words and your heart, friend. Thank you for putting it all out here.

    Posted 2/1/2013 at | Permalink
  4. Rebecca

    Hi Kari, I once wrote to you saying that while we have quite different lives, I enjoy your writing and that I appreciate that you live and parent with intention.

    After reading this post, I see that our beginnings in spiritual life weren’t so different. My heart is very hard against those beginnings and I have no wish to delve back into them to understand or forgive. I am still resentful of the ignorance and the judgment I experienced in a church similar to the one you knew, and I still can’t understand why men (mostly men) who claim spiritual leadership in our communities have so little education or empathy … With the exception of the Catholic Church which trains priests for years in seminaries, few Christian denominations require their pastors, ministers, lay leadership or whatever, to have undergone any significant training.

    Our spiritual lives are arguably the most important of the many lives we lead, but we wouldn’t trust our physical well-being to just anyone claiming medical knowledge, and we wouldn’t trust our savings to just anyone claiming to be a banker … Why is it that our churches and we, or our parents for us, lay trust in these types of spiritual leaders who claim to know God’s will and way …?

    I do not embrace that past, but it has helped define what I stand for and what I will stand against.

    Posted 2/1/2013 at | Permalink
  5. Cassandra stafford

    I so resonate with this. I am from the same type of background. I still struggle because I am still IN or around so much of this type of lingo and such. Some of it had a truth to it when it started but then humans can admit when unexplainable spiritual things cease so we continue in our own efforts and produce things like faking revivals and trying to push people down. I’ve had to forgive those people who have ” prophesied” such ungodly, unChristlike things over me. I’ve had to get gut level honest with God and admit my frustration with having to function in a system I grow more and more irritated by. My consolation is that my husband pastors, believes in things like true revival and spiritual gifts, but shares my heart and despises people abusing one another spiritually as well.
    And I want to say, regarding the education of pastors, I very much agree. I can say, because I am married to one, that he would desire nothing more than to have an extensive education for ministry. Yet, when one is called into ministry and you have a family, you can’t afford to seek years of classical seminary and still raise your children financially UNLESS you study on yor own time. Whih my husband does. So many do. But that carries no diploma for a long time. So what’s a man to do?? They mean well. I don’t think most want to mislead people. But given that their job (regarding the flock) is to interpret scripture and build an understanding of ancient culture and literature…yes many lack that know how. I admit it. Then, there are those (in the south especially) who are suspicious of ‘book learning’ and distrust everything learned in college as false teaching and the stuff that Paul said to ignore. Mention philosophy…you’re a border line heretic right there.
    That’s why I feel so alone at times. Many of pastor friends don’t read what I read and question things…they just “resist” such thoughts because that feels spiritual. Make sense??

    Posted 2/1/2013 at | Permalink
  6. This was a great post (I found it through your link on Addie Zierman’s blog in the comments). I’ve been struggling with this lately, this idea of not throwing the baby out with the bath water when it comes to the faith I used to have vs where I am today. And it’s tricky. But mostly I’ve been struck by how hard I’ve been on my younger self. I haven’t given my memories much grace by remembering that at the time I really was trying to love God and follow him. I tend to focus on how ignorant I was about the world and how I tried to fit it into boxes that are ridiculous and forget that I really did want to be godly and wise and loving.

    So thank you for this gentle reminder of keeping some ownership of the entirety of ourselves.

    Posted 2/2/2013 at | Permalink
  7. This resonates so deeply, Kari – all this about accepting all the places we have come from, even if we’ve moved on. Beautiful.

    Posted 2/4/2013 at | Permalink
  8. I love that Natalie Goldberg quote—it’s been far too long since I’ve read that book! Time to add it to the pile. And I really love how you tied in where you’ve come from—your past—with what it means to be soft-hearted.

    This is a truth I’ve found myself having to face again and again the past few years: “…the problem is that when I outright reject my past, I am rejecting part of myself.” Reading this post is making me more excited than ever to talk all about this and read more of each other’s work this summer at the Glen!

    Posted 2/4/2013 at | Permalink

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